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This isn't necessarily a gear question, as there's myriad articles & arguments over the best tires, pressure, brake pads, etc. Rather, I consider it more of a technique question.

My daily commute to work includes starting off the day with about a 128'/40m descent over about 0.28mi/450m. The steepest grade is about -12%, with most of it being -8%. This route has a bike lane the whole way and a crosswalk at the end of it.

There are other routes: One, which has relatively heavy car traffic in the morning and lacks a bike lane (gutter, in this area) for most of it. It adds only about 0.6mi to the total ride.

The second alternate has a very shallow decline but narrows and has no bike lane whatsoever. It also lacks a crosswalk or any means to cross to the other side of the street. This route only adds about a half-mile to the total route, and the street should be relatively low-traffic in the morning, but I haven't tested it.

So, is the first route ridable in the winter with a cheaper hybrid bike with winter tires as a relatively casual rider? What is the best option out of these routes if not?

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  • I’m not sure it’s possible to answer and I don’t understand how the crosswalk fits into the equation
    – Paul H
    Oct 5, 2023 at 20:02
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    This will depend a lot on road conditions. If the hill turns into a sheet of ice, it may be impossible to slow down. However, that is true of all the routes, you won't be able to stop on ice even on flat ground. This may just come down to which route is best maintained in the winter. Oct 5, 2023 at 20:06
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    @PaulH I think the crosswalk is mentioned because it is at the bottom of the hill and might require a sudden stop from descending speed. There are tons of great resources around the tire/gearing aspect: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/winter - but it'll depend.
    – DoNuT
    Oct 6, 2023 at 5:59
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    How does winter look like in your area? Like in Canada or more like in Florida? Oct 6, 2023 at 7:04

4 Answers 4

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Ridable depends very much on the usual winter conditions in your location. Where I live here in the south of Austria, it has less than 5 days a year to ride in snowy conditions on the road - there is snow but streets are usually cleared early in the morning. If there is slush or ice, I wouldn't try to ride it on that day, you probably have a glimpse of the conditions before you go into the actual descent just in front of your door and are able to make a call on a day-to-day basis. Better take a detour than have a crash.

I'm not trying to equip my bike to deal with every possible condition (which just isn't possible and practical), on these days, I just take an alternate route or transport, the bus or in my case by car. If it is just a short section you are not comfortable with, pushing your bike might also get you through.

With mild winters, you are potentially still riding 90% of the time on your regular route including the descent, taking the alternatives only when needed. Slippery roads might not be doable but traffic usually is, if it is a road that is generally ridden by cyclists, drivers are used to it and will give you enough space to get through, even though it might feel uncomfortable at first.

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    An anecdotal warning about relying on getting off and walking: I was on my tourer with Marathon Mondial tyres (not studded). I saw the bike path was icy, and very gently slowed to a stop, with no skidding. I stepped off, and just kept going. No real harm done - I caught myself on a fence and dropped the bike (later finding I'd damaged the rear QR skewer). But my MTB/touring shoes had far less grip than my tyres. Wheeling the bike the 3m to where I could walk on the grass was surprisingly difficult
    – Chris H
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:10
  • Yeah, especially on descents, but I would argue that landing on your bottoms is still less hurtful than trying to decelerate at typical descending speeds sliding on both wheels and ending up in whatever comes your way, next. So, when you're on a descent and don't feel comfortable with the grip level provided, that might be the better choice, or trying to get your feet on the ground, stay on the brakes and try to slowly get past it.
    – DoNuT
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:17
  • Yes, the conclusion I think is to not let it run away with you, and descend more slowly. If one brake alone is marginal (in this case the back as a brief skid is recoverable and you won't be braking hard enough to take much weight off it), use both to stop while you still can
    – Chris H
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:22
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    Exactly, once you got past a certain speed, it might become a one-way ticket into misery. I only had that with my road bike on an unintended gravel descent. I ended up riding all on the brakes because everything above 20-25 kph was too much to catch without skidding. I imagine it is pretty much the same on snow and ice.
    – DoNuT
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:25
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It depends a lot on surface conditions, tyres, brakes, riding skills and risk aversion.

If the bike lane on your first route is not cleared properly and has deep, icy ruts or deep slush it will be very difficult to ride. If there is merely a thin-ish layer of snow or some black ice it shouldn’t be a problem with studded winter tyres. If the road is properly cleared you could just use the road.

Braking can be difficult if you have rim brakes which tend to perform poorly in wet conditions, especially if they ice over and with hands already cold and weak.

Don’t forget that in difficult road conditions it’s even more important to be visible, predictable and alert. Don’t be afraid to claim the lane on the road if it’s narrow and/or overtaking is impossible (for a sensible person) anyway.

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I would think that the rider has to judge which path is better, depending on weather and traffic and rider skill, obviously the more experience the better judgement, you would hope anyway.

I would make sure that the brakes are in good condition, sight check them every day, lookout for wear and tear.

The crosswalk at the end of a steep bike path does not sound good but if you can clearly sight who is coming from either side of the crosswalk from afar then a safe descending speed and braking power will be up to your discretion.

I like to ring the bell and have my hands on the brake levers when approaching a blind spot.

Every ride is a unique experience and I always analyse any issues at the end of a ride and what I can do about it to make things better and safer.

I hope this helps.

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I have mild winters, with only occasional icy days. Some winters we don't even have snow that settles. The painted bike lanes are gritted (salted) but that doesn't always work very well first thing, until enough people have ridden over it and pressed it into the ice.

So I run ice spike tyres for much of the winter on my primary commuting bike. They have decent grip on wet roads - better than my summer tyres if there are compacted leaves. Sheet ice is rideable with care, cornering gently. Snow and slush can be ridden with a bit more confidence, but are hard work. Refrozen slush in the mornings is the biggest issue, not because of slipping but because of the hard ruts. If in any doubt about descents, I take the whole traffic lane; there aren't any bike lanes on the downhills in the morning and only one in the afternoon, which is very rarely icy.

I don't really have an option to get to the station from where I get the train to work. The additional cost from any option involving driving is simply prohibitive, and the hourly buses just miss connecting with the train.

After getting off the train I ride another bike on well-cleared urban roads, on normal hybrid tyres. I will probably avoid the new separated bike paths on icy days, as they're not likely to be gritted unlike the roads. This is a shorter ride and can be walked

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