Riding in Snow - Upright vs Trike / by Erin Wade

Winter Wonderland

This was the view as I set up my trike to go out for a ride early yesterday afternoon. I’ve been doing winter biking for the past several years. When I got my Catrike Pocket, one of the things I was looking forward to was this part of my riding experience - Winter riding is great, but there are disadvantages to having a two-wheeled conveyance underneath you in the ice and snow...

Today wasn’t my first cold weather ride on the trike, or even my first one encountering snow, but it was my first out here on the prairie, on a day like this - actively snowing, with the roads as yet uncleared.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on the actual road under these conditions - I ride my bike and trike out here on the road all the time, and I find people to be quite respectful, but the earliest snows often find drivers have forgotten everything they previously learned about driving in the white stuff. And, as the picture accurately displays, visibility was not ideal (yup - that’s the sun overhead). So I decided to ride down the wind turbine service roads instead. This involved only a short distance on the road itself. The service roads aren’t long, but it would still get me out and about for a little bit.

Cutting thru the snow is more work than one might realize - the gears you use are lower, and there’s a lot of spinning going on. The section of the road going towards the service road is downhill to get there, and I was a little surprised how much the rear wheel moved around. I was never sideways, but there was a lot of wiggling from side to side (I still have my road tires on the trike).

Once I hit the service road this was the view:

Hoth?

The service roads are gravel, and simply there for trucks to get back to the turbines, so the surface is a bit rougher than being out on the open road. It was passable, however, while I was heading east/west. When the road turned to the north the volume of snow - probably just due to wind direction - was too much to make it passable.

So I turned around and headed back. This was mostly uneventful, except that the downhill section on the way there was now an uphill section. In the snow on the pavement I did finally hit one section where all I could do is spin the back wheel with no forward progress. I tried for what felt like ten minutes (but was probably 30 seconds) to get it to move forward without dismounting, rocking back and forth a bit (it works in the car, so why not here?) but finally gave up, got up, and rolled it forward a few feet. That seemed to do the trick.

I was a little disappointed both in the distance and duration of the ride, so I decided to take out MLW’s upright for comparison. Her bike is a Walmart-special steel Schwinn mountain bike, and I’ve used it before for winter rides. I thought it might be interesting to compare both the experience, and the numbers for the two.

What I found was:

  • The wiggly downhill section on the trike was wiggly on the upright as well, but with both front and rear wheels moving unpredictability.
  • I made it slightly farther on the northerly section of the service road, but it was still pretty much impassable.
  • I didn’t get stuck on the uphill return, but again had both wheels periodically breaking free (I didn’t drop the bike or wipe out - but I certainly have done so in the past on winter rides).
  • The 3-4’ higher you sit on the bike makes a real difference with respect to wind exposure. I think I knew this from a logical perspective, but there was definitely more of a sensation of the wind cutting across me as I was sitting up on the Schwinn.

And the numbers? Pretty similar overall:

Pocket in the Snow

Schwinn in the Snow

On the Catrike the ride took me a little over 10 and a half minutes. My average speed was a little slower, but my top speed was a little higher (not that top speed is a target for winter riding). Being a little slower on average probably had to do with the fact that I tried a little longer to get forward progress on the northward section of the service road while I was on the trike, since I wasn’t originally planning on this to be a comparative test; and it would reflect the time spent spinning on the hill before I got up and moved the trike. In both cases, these events (and picture taking) would also account for the longer stopped time on the trike as well.

So - ultimately the trike appears to have done about as well as the mountain bike from a numerical standpoint. And from a never-threatening-to-disappear-out-from-under-you standpoint, it far exceeded the upright. I think now I just need to consider whether, and what type of tire change to make for the rear wheel to improve traction. I won’t typically ride on unplowed roads, but it would be good to not have to get up and push on a slippery uphill section.