Looks like this is going to be one of those “ice storm” winters, where we get more ice storms and light dustings of snow than real snowstorms. Anyhow, we got freezing rain most of Monday night, and today I got back on the bike. Main roads were all fine, but the roads through Patapsco State Park were quite exciting. On the River Road entrance (Howard County side), we had the usual 1 or 2 inches of snow and ice. This area never gets plowed or treated, and it doesn’t get much Sun, so as a result, it’s typically snowed over more than not in January and February. Still, I was able to mostly ride through it on my fixed-gear road bike. Once inside the park, the roads were plowed and treated, but there was still a lot of black ice everywhere. I had to keep my rear wheel weighted down on the uphill parts, to keep it from slipping. The Grist Mill Trail had a fair bit of ice on it, but it had been cleared at some point and it was easier going than the access road. Still, it was quite an adventurous loop through the park and I was happy I stayed upright.
For the past two winters, I’ve been exclusively riding fixed gear in snowy and icy conditions. It’s a mixed bag, but I prefer it to my road bike. The fixed gear is really nice on flat and downhill stretches, because it allows me to use the pedals to regulate my speed, and provides a good “feel” for the overall surface traction. However, going uphill, it’d be nice to have a lower gear. Maybe the solution is to run fixed gear with a lower gearing than I’d use on dry roads. But then I’d have to switch cogs more often, which is a pain.
I think a mountain bike with studded tires is the “ultimate answer” for icy conditions. I’d lose the “feel” I get with fixed gear, but the studded tires should make up for that by providing extra traction. My plan is to take my rebuilt mountain bike out for its maiden voyage tomorrow morning. If it works out well, I’ll look into getting a good set of studded tires for it for next winter. Some research will be required, as I need a set that also performs adequately on ice-free pavement. I’ve read good things about the Schwalbe Marathon Winter, so that’ll likely be my starting point for comparison.