Optimize Traction for Winter Cycling

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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Optimize Traction for Winter Cycling

When your cycling routes get slippery due to rain, mud, snow or ice, there are several tactics cyclists can use to gain more traction and enhance safety.


Bike type is a seemingly obvious but often overlooked way to enhance your traction in slippery conditions. There are fat bikes with wide tires that provide tremendous traction, then mountain, commuter, cyclocross and road bikes with narrow tires and aggressive positions that generally do not thrive in very slippery conditions. Moving along that spectrum can make your winter riding safer by increasing your tire size and putting you in a less aggressive position.

While it may seem odd to ride a mountain bike on the road, it is a great way to get out and pedal, plus riding the bigger tires on the road means you will move slower, have to work a bit harder and, consequently, you will stay warmer. Fat bikes are a great option to increase traction and get out year round. Choosing your route, or type of ride, to optimize safety is another option related to bike type. If you usually ride busy city streets, then you may choose back routes, or even a fat bike ride to avoid the traffic and slippery streets where crashes are a bigger safety concern.



Regardless of what bike you pick there are generally tire options to increase your traction on slippery roads and trails. Many road bikes will accept a wider, commuter-styled tire that features more grooves and even knobs to aid in traction. A wider tire will also help. Many pro road racers ride 25cc or larger tires now, whereas many recreational riders and gravel riders push well into 30 and 40 cc tires. The larger tire volume means you can go to lower pressure and get more tire in contact with the ground.

Many of my clients in northern areas or those who absolutely do not want to risk a fall use studded tires. These tires feature small carbides (spikes) that provide amazing traction and keep you warmer with the extra weight. If you already have knobby tires there are kits to add studs to your tires and, of course, you can do a search and find many DIY options.


Many cyclists rarely check their tire pressure or simply pump it up very hard each ride, regardless of the conditions, their goals or their body size. Generally, lower tire pressure will provide more traction and you can go as low as your tire will let you without causing rim hits or a ‘peeling’ sensation when cornering. Your best method for finding your tire pressure is to get a digital pressure gauge and experiment based on your experience, body size and riding ability. If you ride your road bike at 90 PSI on a dry summer day, try 70 PSI when it is cold and slippery to see if you notice increased traction. For commuters or recreational riders this may not be an everyday practice, but the more you’re concerned about traction, safety or performance, the more attention you should pay to this free way to boost traction.


Like driving a car, braking, cornering and accelerating techniques matter in slippery conditions. If you brake aggressively, this causes a skid or a loss of traction. If you lean your bike over to corner hard on an icy road, you will likely slide out. Slippery conditions require that you are more gradual in your application of these skills. You can enhance your traction by braking early and gradually before corners (or stops) and aim to corner gradually with minimal braking so that all the traction you have can be applied to cornering.

Slippery conditions should not be a reason to avoid cycling. Making a few changes to your setup and working on technique can have a huge effect on your ability to keep moving forward smoothly and safely.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.


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