Snow/winter riding information

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by Dysco, Sep 21, 2004.

  1. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    This is a little thing I wrote up in response to a question about REAL winter riders in another forum. I finally updated this as of 8.29.2010 to be a little less militant, more helpful, and incorporate some of what other people have been doing. It's been great to see people posting about their experiences.

    In the fall of 2002, I bought a BMW F650GS and rode it through 2 and a half winters as my primary commuter. I wore out four sets of studded tires, which adds up to around 12k miles on studded tires. I learned many lessons, but the most important was that (without heated gear) at a certain point, highway speeds aren't safe for extended periods. I was experiencing the first stages of hypothermia on nearly every ride under 10F on my 32 mile freeway commute across Denver. At that point I started to rethink my bike-only strategy. :lol3 Here are some other things I learned:

    Success depends a lot on the bike, and a lot on the rider. If you're new to riding, starting on the snow cold be a pretty bad idea, especially if you're going to be in traffic. Here's a few other things to think about:

    Ground Clearance: If your engine sits 5" off the ground, then a 6" pile of snow will cause your engine to push against it and you'll lose momentum. Now apply this to 2 FEET of snow (parking lots and residential streets) and you'll be doing a LOT of work to get the bike through. It's a workout on your body and your clutch.

    Seat Height: You're gonna use your feet. It's not pussing out to dab in the snow. I use a foot outrigger at speeds from 0-75MPH when the bike slides, wobbles, or when I got bored. On snow and ice your foot glides along and it's a great balancing tool. You don't want to be 4 feet off the ground or you'll be falling over all the time. Also, think of the leverage you'll need to hold yourself up if your feet have no grip- you want to be able to lock that foot way out from the bike and make your tripod bigger.

    Compatible Wheels: It helps to have REAL DOT knobbies if you want a reliable snow bike. Others have done great with a more street-oriented dual-sort tire like Gripsters, but they're not ideal for a lot of fresh snow and slush. I used Kenda Trakmaster IIs because they're cheap and last at least 3,000 miles with the studs. I had one front go 8k. They make them in a 17" up to 160mm wide. If you don't have a 21" front rim, you may have to use a rear-use tire on the front which KILLS your cornering confidence and ability. Basically, you turn like a rookie when you're running that setup but It's stable. A 21" Dunlop D606 I put on a KLR650 one year handled great on the dry and took studs with no problems. My F650GS with the 19" rear on the front end was miserable in the corners.

    Weight: I believe heavier is better- more weight on each knob gets it farther into the snow and makes things more stable. I.E. a 200lb dirtbike will be a handfull and my 400lb BMW will ride smoothly. I also tried to keep the tank full when I knew it was going to snow. Keep in mind this is more weight you'll have to hold up in the slippery stuff and more weight to potentially pick up if you go down. (2010 note: I'm going to try studding a 300lb WR250R this year, so we'll see how that goes.)

    If you only have a sportbike the above info means:
    a) You can stud an SV650, F2, F3, or any other sportbike with a 160 rear and 120 front but you'll probably have to remove both fenders.
    b) Your sportbike will SUCK in deep snow and dry pavement.
    c) It'll kick ass in compact snow and ice (with studded tires) because of the horsepower, weight, and low genter of gravity.
    If you have a bigger dual sport this gets much easier.

    Studs: I use street-legal automobile studs on knobby tires. Ice screws, sheet metal screws, and spikes aren't what I'm talking about. Sheet metal screws can be used in an emergency, but tire studs have been proven to help a motorcycle get around handily on snow and ice. There's a mostly helpful instructional website for studding here, or you can read on for how others are doing it.

    Stopping with studs: If you have studs, you have to slow down on dry pavement and leave greater braking distances. The only part of the tire you need to stud is the middle and that's what you stop with. You'll also engine-brake a lot more because locking the front becomes a lot easier with less rubber and more metal on the ground. I slide the rear end a lot at stops with the engine and it's pretty effective. On snow, slush, and dry pavement, my stopping distance is about the same. On ice, it all depends on how fast you're going. This doesn't mean your stopping distances will double, only that you'll have to ride less aggressively if you're an aggressive rider. If you're a calmer rider, you may not even notice a difference.

    The Good Stuff: You can maintain a pretty high rate of speed without the instability that you'll get in a car- basically because the gyroscopic forces of a bike wheel have more effect than car wheels. This means you can do normal highway speeds on the highway... in anything but unpacked snow over 2-3". I've seen indicated speeds of 85MPH on compact snow- with NO traffic around me. I can accelerate with minimal slipping on any surface faster than any 4X4 I've met. In a straight line, the traction is unbeatable on the snow and corners can be taken at a reasonable pace if you know what you're doing. Changes of direction need to be planned and executed with a decent amount of concentration. Fast avoidance maneuvers are possible depending on conditions but I try not to get into situations requiring them. I can "legally" drift-turn around corners and basically play around in the snow and I've never been pulled over on a snow day. The vibe I get from cops I've spoken to is as long as I'm not crashing, I'm golden.

    Snow Slapper: The big thing to watch for is strips of snow left unpacked or tire tracks that cross your path at an angle other than 90 degrees or the big one: snowplow tailings. Since everything is white it's hard to guage the height of these tracks and your bike will change course a little bit and you'll feel REALLY unstable. Staying on the throttle and maintaining your composure is important at any speed. Obviously this can happen anywhere and it takes a long time to get used to.

    Crashing: I've never crashed on the street with studs. I did lowside in a parking lot at 10mph trying to drift turn with a passenger. We both slid softly to a stop and got right up.

    Passengers: It can be done safely but I only reccomend taking passengers with a LOT of riding experience who ride very neutral- any movement can bring you down around a corner or over a bump. See above.

    Studless: I've done it. I'd do it again on knobbier tires but not street tires: A flat surface will compress snow and make it slippery while a bumpy surface will compress snow and maintain some grip in it. I prefer riding without studs on sanded snow but once rode about 20 miles of highway in 1-2" of fresh snow at an average speed of 45MPH on Dunlop D607s. It can be done, but I wouldn't bet my job on being able to make it to work every day on non-studded tires. There's no way I could have made it to work every day for 2 winters without them. Update: on an '81 XT250 with bare knobbies, I found it difficult to navigate city streets that had a base of packed snow. It was really slick and I fell once in the middle of the road. In fresh, untraveled snow, I was fine, but once I was on the streets it became pretty dangerous. Sanded roads are much easier than unsanded.

    Chains: Sweet. Great traction, easily installed and removed, but a less balanced, more bumpy ride. Great for emergencies or the occasional fun ride. Crash and AnnieGS have pioneered a lot of chain stuff, but I have never used them.

    Dirt: Like a car, your bike will get REALLY dirty when it snows. So will you. Get tough gear that will last sand rubbing into it and ice forming on it. You can't be afraid to scratch your bike and you may go a month without being able to wash it because of sub-freezing temps.

    Gear: Before heated grips or electric clothing, I recommend an electric visor. The HJC CS-12 fits a snowmobile visor that runs a cord to the bike battery. This keeps ice from forming on your shield and lets you maintain visibility without fog and without developing frostnip on your face from leaving the visor open. The visor says not for street use right on it- it won't take a hit like a solid street visor but my opinion is that it's safer to see than to have the strongest equipment. Without an electric visor, falling snow and spray can cake on your faceshield and eventualy entirely obstruct your vision. A finger-squeegee helps a ton, too.

    I've worn a Firstgear Kilimanjaro jacket for 2 years in the snow and waterproof them once a year. I also wear Coldwave Sno/Ice bibs and Baffin boots. I prefer wearing waterproof motocross boots because the armor is nice to have when bumping off of big chunks of ice from trucks but it's hard to find a cheap pair that'll keep the waterproofing longer than a few snow days. I've never worn electric clothing, mainly because of power restrictions on my bike. Instead, I layer up. My gloves vary but I tend to prefer my lobster claw ice-climbing cloves in extremely cold weather.

    Experience:
    On my BMW F650GS in a bad winter storm with sleet, snow, ice, and generally awful conditions on my 32 mile commute between Broomfield and Aurora, CO.

    On a Honda Ruckus with studded 10" tires, I found that packed snow was lots of fun, but tracked snow and loose snow was miserable because of the tiny wheel diameter- the small wheels followed tracks randomly.

    In Denver, we experience storms that accumulate fresh snow in a hurry and we see a lot of fresh snow and churned snow/slush. We also see ice and compact snow, but less often as it melts quickly in the Colorado sun. The studs I used made the ice and compact snow simple. The harder parts for me have always been how to deal with the snow and the muck left by snowplows, sand trucks, and traffic.
    #1
  2. cjflyfisher

    cjflyfisher cjflyfisher

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    Where do you get your bike tires studded? May have to try this, everybody at work thinks Im nuts now, wait till I show up in 4" of snow on the GS, then they will just know it. TKC 80's studdable? I live just south of you, go over Monument hill everyday, commute 50 to 70 miles one way, is it do-able in the snow, or is that too far to bet the job on
    #2
  3. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    I stud my own. Info (needs polishing) HERE.
    TKCs <s>aren't deep enough for studs</s> will take a 10mm stud (instead of a 13mm) AND they have to be brand new tires. I suggest getting the MUCH cheaper Kendas that happen to work VERY well. Monument hill is very doable- in fact, on a good snow day, I'd just run her up the shoulder and pass all the cards that are stopping on the middle of the hill. If you have GOOD electric gear that distance won't be a big deal unless it's REALLY cold.

    Doing this to have people think you're nuts isn't the best reason. It's kind of a soul thing like surfing :thumb

    The crazy part is just a fun bi-product :evil
    #3
  4. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    [​IMG]

    HJC helmet with electric snowmobile visor, insulated gloves, Kilimanjaro jacket, waterproof insulated bibs, and probably Baffin -100F boots. Note the rear-use 19" Kenda front, extended handguards, and rubber fork boots.

    Edit: from 1/9/2011:
    #4
  5. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    Bump for the upcoming winter... and because someone linked to it! Who else has good cold-weather advice?
    #5
  6. momucka

    momucka aka dirtydualy350

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    thanks for the advice. im getting ready for my second winter of riding in chicago. last year I had a dr 350 with an mt21 on the front and a trackmaster on the back. i never studded the tires because they usually have the main streets clean in a day around here. Besides that I cant change tires too efficiently yet, but it made that first day a lot more fun/challenging.

    I found that a motocross style helmet with goggles helps to keep the fog factor down, if you can tolerate a really cold nose. I may have to look into the visor heater.
    #6
  7. snowrider

    snowrider Long timer

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    I rode the past 7 winters, the previous 6 were with only the bike for transportation. I got hit by a car in the summer after my 6th winter, then meant to take last winter off but rode in the snow a little. This winter I'll ride when I feel like it, I don't know how much that will be yet.

    I've found most of what you said to be true, except for the knobbies. I get a lot of mixed surfaces, and I find full on thick snow cover is the least common surface for street riding in winter. This may depend on how often it's plowed where you are. I rode on street tires, not even dual sport tires every winter but the last one, where I had the stock trailwings on the DR. I was always opposed to knobbies because of the mixed surfaces and the fact that usually I was riding on a slippery road surface which is not like dirt at all. Now I'm very interested in what dual sport tires can do and will be trying TKC80s this winter though I think Anakees would be better. I've always just wanted a little more grip in snow, not a lot, because I want something that breaks loose evenly and predictably, no matter how early.
    The first winter I rode a 1982 GS850 (that's a Suzuki, not a BMW) and it was probably the best bike for snow that I've ridden. The second year I rode a 1976 Honda CJ360T and it sucked bad. The tires were junk, but also I missed the weight. The weight really helped it find the ground through the snow and truck through the chunky stuff. The Honda was losing the front wheel everywhere, and I'd just barely muscle it back every time. It was hard hard work getting that thing through snow. The sticky feel-less drum brakes didn't help. I use front brake only on snow and had to abandon the front brake altogether halfway through that season because it was sticking from salt and would no longer release on it's own. Those first two years I rode feet down a lot.
    The next four winters were on a 1982 GS1100 (also not a BMW) and it was ok but a little more work than the 850 just because of the extra low end power. The 4th winter I would ride a 2 block slow motion powerslide feet up on a badly slanted downtown street full of cars every day on the way to work. For a week or two of heavy snows and constant thick slush, I took that road every day and the back wheel wouldn't hook up and go straight for two blocks at a speed of about 15 mph (the speed of the cars). I never put a foot down in that section. That was my "Rossi season".
    The 6th winter I crashed for the first time on the street in snow. Not a big deal, just a broken clutch lever and a lot of time wasted because of it. Before that, I'd only dumped it on snow in parking lots when I was doing donuts and messing around. I was getting tired of having to do it every day and was having a "Biaggi season", so I decided to own a car again for the next winter. Then I got hit the next summer and didn't have a choice.
    I got the DR in February and rode it on hardpack snow, but that was about it.
    This winter I'll try a bit more than that, but I'm not sure I have any Rossi seasons left in me. I'm going to take it easy and keep it fun for me.


    I don't have any pictures as good as yours, though I have a lot of memories like that.
    Here are some pics I do have:

    First year on GS850
    [​IMG]


    Later on the GS1100
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]




    #7
  8. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    This is a great point. Snow is the least common riding surface around here, too. The studs were the most important part of my setup. I knew the knobbies were deep enough to put studs in and didn't want to waste a street tire seeing if they were deep enough to hold a stud.* Compact snow and ice is the worst surface and the studs handled them with ease. Frankly, I don't have to stones to run sideways up a hill all winter :huh I went with the most reliable (read: overkill) setup I could think of and it worked well. The studs do break loose, but there's a definite choice with them whether you want to tractor up a hill without breaking it loose or go for broke and spin it like crazy.

    Right now it's the distance that's hurting me- 30 miles is well beyond my limits for a day-in day-out bike commute. I am in the process of plating my TTR125 and I have my GF almost convinced she can commute 3 miles on it daily :evil

    My good pictures come from one storm- nobody else was getting anywhere so there were lots of people standing around to take pictures. You and I both know we'll never have pictures of the really good stuff and we'll never be able to truly explain the sensation of taking 2 wheels on a surface most 4-wheelers have trouble with...


    *That said, nothing's better than the hookup of a studded knobbie when you're drag racing some yahoo in a jacked-up 4X4 on the first night of a good winter storm.
    #8
  9. snowrider

    snowrider Long timer

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    Hmmm, that does sound good... How bad are the studs on pavement? I'm ready to try new things.


    How long does it take you to do the 30 miles? I could get from most points in town to most other points in town in 30 minutes, which worked good for me, but I have a good tolerance for cold. With electric vest/grips plus the stuff I usually use I could probably go longer. The longest I've gone in winter was 5 hours (about 250 miles) in 20+ degree weather after new year's day with a big windshield and lots of layers.
    #9
  10. MMcnamara

    MMcnamara Where does that go?

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    I found it was easiest to ride in fresh powder - no chunks to knock you off line. On the plowed sections stability was...lacking, just relax and let the bike go where it wants. This was on a DR650s with Metzler Saharas (back in the day, as they say).
    #10
  11. MNwilly

    MNwilly RIP, my friend...

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    Studs are illegal here in Minnesota. I have rode on clear pavement with studded tires, and although traction was limited, slides were very predictable. Unstudded knobbies on packed snow is a blast. That is until you find an ice patch under the snow, break your clutch lever, and bruise your knee(or so I've heard).:D
    #11
  12. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    Studs are ok on pavement- cornering is pretty slow but stopping distance is only increased by 25%. I can sustain 80MPH on my setup. The trouble is the 30 miles is ALL freeway and with no big windshield it's a bear in the truly cold stuff. I quit doing it because I was getting really worried about frostbite- through ice-climbing gloves and 2 sets of liners.
    #12
  13. yellow

    yellow Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the great info. Well written and very timely. Two comments:

    1) Why only stud the middle. My only experience is with MTB tires. Many of them are commercially available and they will not stud the middle, just the sides. That way you will get some traction from the studs but it is also easy to ride on pavement. Customers seem to like these the best, as opposed to fully studded.

    2) No mention of sidehack?

    Thanks again for taking the time to put all that togther
    #13
  14. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    You're welcome.

    1) You're going for max grip with the studs, nothing else. In later years I studded every knob and noticed no change in traction. I guessed that this was because I never got leaned-over much on ice- I didn't want to.

    Bicycle tires are a completely different beast. They aren't subject to the same speeds and force that a motorcycle tire is. There's also less traction when you're slowing down and the surface area of the metal is larger compared to the rubber. Studs on bicycles also won't wear down the same as they will on a motor tire.

    2) Sidehacks are expensive and unecessary for riding in the snow. Although I'd own one just to take my dog around in. The spinning wheel of a bike, even if it's spinning like crazy and the bike is barely moving, provides enough force to stay upright.
    #14
  15. KL5A

    KL5A Bugs are the new black

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    Like this?

    [​IMG]
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  16. northrider

    northrider Traveler

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    Hey 5,

    I wondered if you would find this thread. Its starting to get cold so it must be time to put the studs on the Pegasso again. The picture looks like Hatcher Pass. Has it snowed up there already this year or is the photo from last winter?
    #16
  17. KL5A

    KL5A Bugs are the new black

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    Hey NR-that was last Tuesday IIRC, the Pegaso is all studded up, and ready to play in the snow. There was a foot or so up at the mine....

    [​IMG]


    And the road over the pass seems to be closed.

    [​IMG]

    So winter is just a half-hour away from me.
    #17
  18. snowrider

    snowrider Long timer

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    Beautiful picture. Where was that taken?




    #18
  19. snowrider

    snowrider Long timer

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    Oh never mind. Hatcher's pass! I was just there a few months ago. My pictures of it look quite a bit different.
    #19
  20. Dysco

    Dysco Puppy wrangler

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    Nice jacket, Number Five. :lol3
    #20