What bike for winter roads?

I live in Minnesota where it gets quite cold and snowy throughout pretty much now until March-May. Considering more outdoor riding this winter but not sure what to get here. Many in the area ride fat bikes but I don’t think I’d use one much in the summer. If I plan to ride still on roads, particularly on gravel/dirt roads (less traffic), is there a best option of A) Fat Bike B) Mountain Bike C) Gravel Bike? Currently, I only own gravel and road bikes so I’d likely need studded tyres on the gravel bike if I stuck with that. I’d sooner get a mountain bike than a fat bike.

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I live in Michigan and last winter I was able to ride my mountain bike with 2.25 tires on all of the gravel roads as long as I waited maybe a day so that cars packed down the snow. If the snow wasn’t packed then they just sunk down and cut through the snow and it was not ideal. But as long as it was packed down it was perfect.

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curious - studs or no studs?

I didn’t use studs. Just standard XC tires (Vittoria Mezcal). Probably not the smartest thing but I didn’t want to be buying new tires when I mostly rode the trainer in the winter anyway. It was a little squirrely but manageable and all of the roads around here are dead straight and flat so I didn’t really have to worry about turning at all. If I was going to be doing it more often I probably would have gone with a 2.35 or larger and something with deeper tread like the Barzo or Maxxis Rekon.

I don’t think studs would help at all unless it was going to be icy. On the packed snow I don’t know how studs would work much better than normal tread does.

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It depends on just how packed down and travelled the snow is and where you’re riding. At least around here (Boston) when the bike paths are plowed they do one pass with a fairly high plow combined with lots of foot traffic so it ends up real slick, especially if there isn’t sun during the day. On that the studs help a lot, and despite having wheelsets with and without studs I just end up running studs from Dec-Mar. At least on my route to work there’s a few spots where black ice can sneak up on you.

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So proper winter is ice, but also snow and defrosting mud spots.

For ice, you need studs. Packed snow, you don’t. If it’s warm enough to ride, there’s going to be ice.
For loose snow and soft surfaces you need tire width.
For snow trails with packed snow (snowmobile trails, etc), you want low tire pressures /volume
For cold temps, you want special rubber compounds.

I don’t think you need knobs unless you need to get over steep hills.

This is probably the old non-studded tire I’d try.

Hello fellow Minnesotan.

My fatty is my workhorse bike, including commuting all year in Minneapolis. Most of my commute is on the Greenway or otherwise for fun at Theo or wherever around town. I swap for studs when the ice comes out to play and adjust pressure as necessary given snowfall.

While I love my fatty, sometimes it’s just more bike than I want to by hauling around, and I would love a more trimmed down gravel/CX bike for winter stuff. I’ve ridden through a winter or two on SS/fixie with studs, which was fun and a bit faster getting around town.

One thing to consider, as others have mentioned, is where and how you’ll be riding. Are you diving in fully and commuting/riding daily regardless of condition? That will entail more maintenance and wear on your gear, and when the ice comes you will certainly want studs.

Are you only looking to ride on trail or in “nice” conditions? Probably won’t need studs or as wide a footprint as a fatty would provide, and could get away with cruising on 3" tires in the 26-29er range.

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Fat Bikes are fun, albeit a little more work. There is something fun about riding a bike that looks like a cartoon, the big wheel makes you feel like a kid on a bike.


Fat bike!

You’d also be surprised just how awesome a good fat bike is in the summer too! I don’t have a full suspension mountain bike, just a hard tail, and I much prefer to ride my fat bike in the summer vs my hard tail.

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Riding-wise I’m down in the Farmington/Lakeville area so there are plenty of gravel/dirt roads to ride on which is what I’d largely be sticking to. Condition-wise, I generally don’t really care what it’s like out. I’ll literally go for runs in any weather (-55 WC was, uh, not fun) but have a trainer too which is a good alternative for days I don’t feel like bundling up.

My main consideration for getting a HT over a fat bike was that I’d be more apt to get into mtb in the summer. Right now I ride strictly roads and gravel and haven’t done any mtb yet based on not wanting to be a bother to more experienced riders on the trail.

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Fat tyres will make you work more as they act like balloons and tend to skid and slip a lot. IMO studded tyres are better as they cut through the snow and slush better to reach the hard ground underneath. I would also check weather apps like climacell to determine how much ice will be there. The metal studs also offer better grip on ice.