Recommended Bike Tires For Winter Commuting in Snow

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Fun winter cycling: all about the right tire and attitude!

Commuting by bicycle in a wintry wonderland? Just as you might outfit a car with snow tires, you may need to swap your skinny tires for some sturdier, studded bike tires for traction on icy surfaces. One thing is certain: you should not attempt to ride on ice without studded tires. I sometimes learn from experience.

As you are aware, snow changes in consistency from the time it floats from the sky, settles to the ground, is packed underfoot or flattened by vehicle traffic, and through its many cycles of melting and refreezing. Snow at 0 degrees Celsius is very different from snow at -15 degrees Celsius. Accordingly, these varying snow conditions will affect the behaviour of your bicycle tires on your daily commute. So which tire(s) do you choose for your winter ride to work or the grocery store?

Skinny Tires or Fat for Winter Commuting?

If you are reading this and wondering about which tires to use, I’ll assume your winter is snowy and you’ll be riding in variable terrain. Winter riding is very similar to mountain biking, and as with mountainous terrain, an all-terrain tire is what you want.

Note: This article will focus on winter tires for road or cyclocross bikes commuting in mostly urban areas. If you commute over really rough terrain or chronically unplowed roads, you likely ride a mountain bike with the fork clearance to run fatter tires than the ones I recommend below for typical commuter bikes.

Skinnies will cut through hopelessly if the snow is loose and the ground is dry. If you have loose snow layered over packed snow, or loose over ice, you are still at a disadvantage. When the slush freezes you will get pushed around, hard.

When to Use Skinny Tires: If you live in an area with mild winters where the snow on the roads is always new snow, or the roads are consistently well-plowed, you might be fine with running skinny tires most of the time. However, if you take the roads less travelled and your town/city/area does not keep the roads or bike paths clear, a fatter tire will work much better and be more fun.

But if you are an early morning bike commuter, be alert for possible water run-off from the curb or sidewalk freezing into ice on the roads. Studded tires are best for icy conditions; the weight and noise of studded tires are well worth the safety and confidence they provide.

I ride my road bike (with 700 x 23 Slicks) and a commuter (a cyclocross bike with fenders (700 x 35 Studded Winter Tires) in the mild Vancouver winter.

A Summary of Observations Running Different Tires (Ranging from 700 x 23 Slicks on a road bike to 700 x 35 Studded Winter Tires on a cyclocross):

  1. Skinny road tires are fine when the streets are plowed and salted (cleared city streets). So not during actual winter days, especially not when your path involves descending down a bridge with a sharp right turn at the bottom where water likes to pool.
  2. Skinny road bike tires are fine so long as there is no substantial accumulation of snow (greater than 1 inch) on the road and there is no ice. When there is snow accumulation, you never really know if there is ice beneath the fluffy stuff. Not the kind of surprise I like at 4am.
  3. Non-studded fatter tires with knobs are superior to skinny tires for loosely packed snow with no ice, or for playing around in a field. These tires are relatively fine for trail use too, especially on fresh fallen snow, but not ideal for commuting on roads.
  4. Slushy conditions call for studded tires. You can never really be sure if there is ice covered by the slush and snow-covered portion of the street.

Go Big or Go Home

Get the fattest tires that will fit your frame; they require less air pressure (and air pressure drops in cold temperatures), and cover more surface area for greater stability.

Your bike’s clearance dictates the maximum size of knobby tire that will fit your bike, and your rims will need to be wide enough to accommodate the thicker rubber as well. Generally, older cyclocross bikes can fit up to about 700 x 45 tires; bring your bike into a shop and test out a few tire sizes before buying, just to make sure.

Tread Confidently

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Find a tire that has a thicker tread and extra siping—the thin slits that bite into ice, snow or slush—as well as built-in puncture protection like foam inserts which fit between the tire and the tube (Tannus Armour’s foam inserts) to withstand debris that gets flushed into the roads.

I used to use an aggressive cyclocross tire for winter riding, and that worked well for most snow days and dry days in Vancouver. Cyclocross tires are more narrow than MTB tires, and thus by design will not hold as much mud (or snow) as the wider MTB patterns. If you do ride a mountain bike, choose a tire tread pattern that will cut through snow and throw the snow out again without getting snow packed between the knobs themselves.

Studs: Great Winter Riding Strategy

A cyclist’s main concern when commuting on main or residential roads would be the unpredictable grooves or ruts formed by refrozen snow on roads. These ruts are similar in strength to sun-baked mud on some fire-road tracks, but much more slippery. Plus, some fresh-fallen fluffy snow might be hiding ice underneath.

For very icy, uneven roads, more studs would be preferred, but the rolling resistance increases with the number of studs. Nokian A10 or Hakkapeliitta W106 are classically capable winter tires. For an all-around tire, Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires are a good balance between speed and grip, with 200 studs. 300 studs and the tires begin to feel “sticky” on bare road when winter conditions change.

All studded winter tires are going to have high rolling resistance, compared with fast summer tires: your 40-minute summer commute can easily become a 45-minute commute on studded tires. The difference is real, but getting to your destination without wiping out and needing to call someone for a ride or a new leg is more important than five or ten minutes.

I would recommend Schwalbe Marathon Winter or Winter Plus as a good, all-round tire.

Tire Air Pressure

A wheel’s ability to ride on different terrains can efficiently be altered by regulating the amount of tire pressure.

For snow, use lower pressure for better grip; for good road conditions, use higher pressure for higher speed.

Scared yet?

Fear not, for with the right tire and air pressure, the bike will seemingly float through it all, much similar to riding on loose gravel or sand. Well, close not quite.

Ignore the printed pressure ratings on the sidewalls of studded tires (and all bicycle tires); tire manufacturers know that most people hold the erroneous belief that the higher the pressure, the better the roll. Partly true, except the posted pressure ratings are based on some percentage of the highest pressure the tire will hold before blowing off the rim — not guaranteeing that your rim will withstand the force placed on the sidewall by your tire at that pressure, or that the ride at that pressure will necessarily be superior.

For now, use the following as a rough guide to air pressure:

The fatter the tire, the lower the psi you will want to inflate. For example, if a 57mm wide tire is rated for 60psi, at that pressure the rim’s sidewalls would be subject to extremely high loads and is likely to crack, unless reinforced by an extremely heavy rim.

The skinniest winter tire I recommend is the Nokian A10 700×32 or 30-622. 30 to 32mm wide. Use 60psi as the maximum pressure in this tire.

NOTE: If you are riding on a cleared road no snow or ice on the ground, don’t ride aggressively with studded tires. Riding hard with studs on pavement will wear the tread blocks of regular knobby tires and damage the studs (carbine studs don’t wear like steel, they rip). Take it easy on the clear patches.

How to Tell How Fat of a Tire Your Wheels Can Take

If you have 700c/29er wheel set, how knobby you can go will depend on your rim width and your clearance between the top of your tire and the frame and fork.

If you currently have 700×35 printed on the sidewall of your tires, the W106 700×45 will be 10mm taller and 5mm wider on each side of the tire, 10mm wider in all.

Without removing your current 700×35 tires, for example, you can do this to see if the W106 700×45 tires will fit your bike.

Check these three things:

  1. Fork clearance: Look at the top where the tire comes close to the fork curve; if you have only 10mm of clearance over the top of the tire, between the tire and the fork, the larger 700×45 tire will touch the frame, rendering your bike immobile. If your existing 700×35 tire gives you 20mm of clearance, the 700×45 W106 should leave you with 10mm of clearance. Anything less than 10mm between the upper fork and tire is not enough to be safe; but with any amount of clearance, it’s always possible for something to get thrown up between the tire and the fork crown and lock the front wheel, causing a crash. But with at least 10mm of space over the tire, you’re safe enough.
  2. Clearance between the sides of the tire and the fork blades: If there’s only 5mm of clearance on each side of your current tire (assuming 700×35 for this example), the wider 700×45 will be too big to fit your bike. Again, ideally aim for 10mm of space on each side of the tire, between the tire’s sidewall and the fork blades. If a tire becomes warped, if there isn’t enough clearance there, your tire will rub as you ride.
  3. Rear tire clearance: The rear tire comes close to the frame in two places: between the seat stays and the chain stays. To refresh your bike anatomy, the seat stays are the two tubes that go from the rear hub upwards towards the saddle; the chain stays are the two tubes that extend from the rear hub forwards towards the crankset, where your pedals attach. Aim for the same 10mm of clearance above the tire and on each side of the tire at those two locations in the rear as you do with the front tire at the fork. If your rear tire were to rub against your bike frame it would not be as dangerous as having the front tire rub on the fork, but it would be annoying and could result in a friction flat tire.

Install your new tires and check clearance again

Your existing 700×35 tire needs 20mm clearance above and 15mm clearance on each side for optimal clearance with the new fatter tires (700×45). If you’ve assessed your bike and decide to install a fatter winter tire, check the clearance again after switching in the new tires. Look carefully when you have the new fat tire installed and make sure there’s at least 10mm above the tire and 10mm on each side of the tire.

Riding With Two Different Sizes of Tires?

Finally, if you are competent with a spoke wrench and know your way around a wheel, you may be comfortable with choosing bigger tires that leave you with less than 10mm clearance on each side of your tires.

You might want a larger tire in the rear. If your rear tire gets locked by something between it and the frame while you’re riding, you’ll likely skid to a stop without falling — certainly not as dangerous a situation as having your front tire jam up. So, you might choose to take the lower risk of having a rear tire rub if it means better control in the snow.

You could ride safely with less clearance in the rear than in the front — but please don’t take the excessive risk of running a tire without enough clearance in the front! If your front wheel gets caught up by something jammed in the space between the fork and tire while you’re trying to navigate on ice, you will not be vertical for long.

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Continental’s Top Contact Winter II Premium tires, handmade in Germany.

As a commuter, riding in an icy winter isn’t all that different from riding in the autumn/spring, as long as you have studded tires. What makes a difference is how many studs you need for the everyday road conditions.

Hakkapeliitta W106 Tires

MOST AWESOME OF ALL WINTER COMMUTING TIRES: The Hakkapeliitta W106 tire is the most awesome of all winter commuting tires. It has 106 carbide studs but they are placed exactly where you need them for daily riding. The 35mm should fit any touring, hybrid, or cyclocross bike; 45mm might fit certain cyclocross bikes that have lots of clearance. The W106 is the perfect tire for commuting through snow and black ice on good roads.


Studs: 106 steel-carbide studs on the 700 x 35 tires.

The Hakkapeliittas are thin enough to cut through road slush, hard enough to have a decent roll (at 65ish psi), and studded enough to grab slick icy spots. Arguably these are the best studded tires on the market, and boast an aggressive tread pattern that eats through new-fallen snow. They are not the best for tons of accumulated snow or plow debris, however. Choose these for black ice and roads with hard-packed snow to experience the greatest performance benefit.

They give you a whole new feeling of riding in the winter.

Nokian A10 Tires

BEST TIRE FOR PLOWED, ICY URBAN COMMUTE: The Nokian A10, AKA “Stud”: For commuting in urban areas that are likely to be well-plowed, but also likely to have icy patches in the evening after a sunny day, the A10 has the lowest rolling resistance of any studded tire. It may not be as good in the snow as the W106, but to be real, most riders hardly ever ride through much snow accumulation unless they are riding for shear pleasure in a field. In winter, commuters mostly have to deal with ice.

Thin tires work especially well at cutting through an inch or less of fluffy snow. The icy ridges and ruts left by cars seems to be the main obstacle for A10 700×32 Nokians. Many who ride the A10s tout them as the best snow tire they’ve ever tried.

Studs: 72 (700 x 32) or 74 (700 x 40) carbide studs.

Speed: They don’t seem slow; my commute to work takes the exact same time as when I’m running slicks. Or maybe I’m just working harder. Either way, definitely worth the money.

Schwalbe Marathon Winter or Plus

The Schwalbe Marathon Winter tire is a fine all-around tire for snow and ice. This is the perfect tire if you want one tire to do everything. The difference between the original and the ‘Plus’ tires is the Plus have an extra layer of rubber (5mm thick) for puncture resistance between the tread and the casing, which makes these a little heavier.

Schwalbe Marathon Winter tire. Notice the sidewall studs and nice tread.

As you can see, the Winter has studs in the center of the tread as well as to the sides of the tread. This gives you maximum traction on flat ice as well as in rutted ice. There’s nothing worse than having your tire literally stuck in a rut with no way to climb out. But with studs at the sides of the tread, the Winter can easily climb out of ruts.

It has more studs and a higher quality casing. The slightly shallower tread blocks make for less rolling resistance for the urban commuter, who will see mostly ice and not snow anyway.

Schwalbe Winter Tire


The Schwalbe Winter is great for straight cycling across glassy ice. This tire eliminates the studs off to the side of the tread that would help you climb out of icy ruts or corner well, so if you require extreme cornering capabilities, opt for the Marathon Winter tires instead. The Winter has half the amount of spikes as the Marathon but has essentially the same tread. If you’re always riding on plowed roads, and so never have to deal with icy ruts, you don’t really need the studs toward the sidewall of the tread anyway, and you can save some money.

Best Tires for Mixed Winter Conditions (Without Studs)

Michelin Star Grip 700c Winter Tire


If you would rather ride a stud-less tire that is capable in every imaginable condition, give the Michelin Star Grip winter tire a spin.

These tires are taller than their listed height, thanks to their super deep, star-shaped tread pattern, so be sure to measure your clearance between your fork and tire before and after installation.

As you can imagine, there is weight associated with all that tread, and if you are coming from slick or semi-slick tires, you will notice the difference.

Despite their weight, they’re relatively silent and roll well, even when running them on the lower end of the inflation range. They perform well even in dry conditions, and for the added comfort of 40-45psi, it doesn’t slow them down too much.

There is absolutely no reason to run these over 55psi.

The Michelin Star Grips have good traction on wet surfaces, and they handle surprisingly well in fresh snow up to around 6 inches! But beware in rutted, freeze-cycled snow and ice; there’s hardly any lug spacing on the tire shoulder, so they are helpless to claw their way out of ruts.

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And since they lack the studs for sticking to black ice, they aren’t the greatest for quick commutes, but they still provide enough needed traction to keep you upright in multiple situations where a semi-slick or typical MTB tread would certainly not. So all that said, considering their price point, they get my endorsement without any doubt.

You might choose to install the studless Michelin Star Grip on the rear and pair it with a studded Swalbe on the front. This combination should handle well on ice and packed icy snow, and save a few bucks.

Top Contact Winter II Premium tires by Continental

If you ride a road or cyclocross bike as your winter commuter, you might like Continental’s Top Contact Winter II Premium tires (also suitable for e-bikes) with deep treads that grip slippery roads.

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Continental’s popular Top Contact Winter II Premium tires, handmade in Germany.

These tires are easy to install and handle a light covering of snow on roads or bridges with ease. As these are without studs, you may notice a bit of slippage going uphill on slush, but they are pretty stable overall and grip the road well. Depending on your road, on dry days the tires might pick up some small stones in the tread along the ride. The reflective stripes are great for commuting, too.

Front Wheel Winter Tire Only?

Sometimes you want to save a buck. I get it. You might think that one studded tire in front is sufficient. Yes, the scariest and quickest crash is often when the front tire loses its grip and you wipe out. If the rear tire slides you can still go down, but not as fast, and the results are usually not so disastrous, since you usually have enough time in slo-mo to support yourself with a sliding foot or perhaps a leg.

But with just a front studded tire upon which your life hangs, you can still go down hard. You can still not be able to climb up an icy hill. You can still spin out going downhill on a curved road or crash when trying to brake before entering a busy intersection. So, I can’t see any practical reason to use a single studded tire in front, except to save a few dollars. Until that decision costs more.

For the cyclist commuting on paved roads with the possibility of black ice, there really is no cheaper and better alternative to having the W106 or A10 on both wheels.

How Long Do Winter Tires Last?

Studded Tires: You can expect your studded tires to last you a good 2000-3000 miles. Instead of switching out your wheels with dedicated winter tires and summer tires each season, it is smart to check your tires every year or two to make sure the studs are not tearing or creating indentations or grooves in the inner tubes.

Winter Tire Tread: Your soft, grippy, deep-tread tires will last longer when you ride in the snowy conditions for which your tires were made. Riding on dry pavement or in warmer months will result in faster wear and thus shorten their lifespan.

Keep in mind that the rear bicycle tire carries more weight and will wear faster than the front tire.


Good Advice for Bike Commuting on Rainy Days

With the right clothing and right attitude, riding in the rain can be more fun than you might think. (The headaches often come once you’ve stopped riding and have a look at what the muck on the road has done to your bike, but we’ve got that covered.)

I love to ride in the rain. Usually fewer people are outdoors, and the road traffic is lighter, too — finally, an ounce of solitude in the city. Plus it feels good being out there going that extra mile.

Just don’t wipe out, and you’re a hardcore cyclist by default.

How to have a good time riding in the rain:


  • Wearing a waterproof shell will keep the water out, but you can still get wet from sweat. It can be worth spending more to get a rain jacket with better breathability. Pit zips are also good.
  • For a cheaper alternative, clean and waterproof your old jackets with waterproofing products from the excellent Nikwax.
  • I like to wear my gore-tex ski pants over some gaiters and overshoes to divert water that flows down my body to continue on its way and not into my shoes (learned from experience). Overshoes reduce how wet your shoes get, and keep your feet warmer.
  • I wear fingerless gloves unless it is a cold rain, at which point I grab full-fingered yet thin wool gloves or neoprene gloves; they get wet but body heat keeps my hands warm.
  • In really cold rains, I opt for water/wind-resistant gloves.
  • Fenders on your bike, waterproof pannier bags, a visor on your helmet, and a dry change of clothes all help, too.
  • Consider having a bike dedicated to commuting in rainy weather

I actually have a “rain bike” I’ll ride if it’s wet or raining out—it’s a Dutch bike with fenders, mounted lights, skirts, enclosed chain guard, and a few other doodads that make commuting in the rain a lot safer and a lot less miserable. But this bike is SUPER HEAVY and SLOW! Most dry days I ride my “fast bike” which is just an old mountain bike turned commuter.

The drier you try to stay in the rain, the more annoyed you’re going to be with how much you’ve spent to stay dry.


  • Brakes are not as great when wet. Take it slower than normal and give yourself lots more time to stop.
  • Use headlights and rear flashing red lights. Turn them on in the rain.
  • If the rain is pouring down, stay off the road because you will be less visible to drivers, even with all your flashing lights.
  • Take protected paths separated by barriers from other traffic, or take the paved off-street cycle paths for bikes only (if your area offers those)
  • Watch out for train tracks, utility hole covers, bike lane markings, etc. when you cross over them keep your handlebars straight, not turning, to avoid a slip. Metal, painted, and brick surfaces in the roadway can become very slippery during and after the rain.
  • Protect your hands and feet. Hands and feet get the coldest when biking, if wet and unprotected. If you plan to bike more than just a couple miles in the rain, make sure both are covered with waterproof and well-insulated material. A plastic bag can work in a pinch.
  • Puddles! Resist the temptation to explore. Even little puddles can hide nasty things like potholes, nails, or glass, which can cause a flat tire or a crash.
  • After your ride, take some time to wipe water and dirt off the metal bike wheel rims, front and back. I carry a paper towel or rag with me in my backpack wherever I go. Wiping off your rims will ensure that the brakes are still effective the next time you take your bike out.
  • Also wipe water off the chain after a rainy ride, and spray a little bike lubricant on the chain. This removes grit and prevents rust from building up on the chain, extending its life and saving you time and money later.
  • Most importantly, don’t worry about getting a little wet and don’t let the rain keep you from having fun on your bike! With the exception of some wicked witches, most humans are water-resistant and will get through it just fine. Everyone has their own routine and preferences, so feel free to experiment and see what works for you.

What’s the Ideal Bicycle For Commuting?

My old cyclocross easily handles my round-trip commute of approximately 14km, through a park and over a bridge (great workout!), mostly on designated bicycle routes. Short and sweet, but enough of an effort that I feel a sense of accomplishment each day, yet I have plenty of energy to complete my work.

There is no such thing as the perfect commuter bicycle, of course. It really depends on your commute and you and your biases! So this post is about helping you find your ideal commuter bicycle, which is quite often a bike that would be best for general riding on paved and some gravel surfaces.

For the general commuter cycling less than 20km roundtrip on relatively flat or marginally hilly terrain, a gravel or cyclocross bike handles well, rolls quick enough, can be equipped with all the requisite commuter gear, and the front fork has clearance for slick road tyres or fat tyres for safer winter cycling.

All-Around Bike For Commuting and Riding

If you are new to bike riding and would like to take advantage of all the health and economic benefits cycling offers by utilizing your muscle-powered bicycle as a means of transportation, you may have wondered if you are best to buy a road bike or a hybrid city commuter bike.

Well, there are a few more cycling options available for those that like to get off the well-worn path, but offering complex solutions to simple questions never did anyone any good. But if you were already considering commuting by fixie, single speed, ccx or other, we shall give respect to a few of those options on the way as well.

For example, if you ever have to take your bicycle great lengths on transit, or you like to store your bike under your bed or in your closet, the idea of a folding bike might appeal.

Disclosure: For commuting on flat terrain (or relatively flat terrain, 7km one-way), I often use my simple single speed bike I bought for under $300. It does not, however, have any fenders, so I ride it only on those energetic summer mornings when the forecast is looking mistakenly optimistic in Vancouver.

While not as fast a ride as my cyclocross, I definitely feel the exertion and count the single speed ride as a bonus training day.

Perfect City Commuting Bicycle Suggestions


  • something reliable and capable,
  • minimal accessories and gear that protects you from the elements,
  • possible storage (panniers or bike rack or basket),
  • to be visible and see the road,
  • and a lock or place to secure the bike.


  • passing people (but if you bike enough, you will by passing people),
  • having the fanciest bike gear or the best components or lightest frame,
  • fiddling all day with their bicycle — minimal maintenance is key (single speed gearing means fewer things can go wrong, right? Except for that time I stretched my chain out and then had to walk the rest of both ways)

Traits to Look For in Your Perfect Commuting Bicycle:

  1. Front and rear lights.
  2. Built-in fenders. Or just the type you secure after-market.
  3. Bell: These are cheap and are the law in many areas. I have startled many a person coming up behind them (sorry).
  4. Good brakes.
  5. A good bike lock.
  6. Nice-to-have: Chain guard or fully enclosed chain or belt drive — so you don’t spend your commute worrying about getting your trousers caught or covered in grease. Sometimes I use an elastic band or a Velcro strip to keep my pants out of my drive train.
  7. Nice-to-have: an internally geared hub.
  8. Panniers, a rack, or a big sturdy basket that doesn’t mess up steering.
  9. Good tires for your conditions. I used the stock tires on my bike for years with minimal problems. I’ve also used the Marathon tires and they are still going strong after years of everyday commuting.
  10. Not too heavy but not too light.

Weight, Gearing, and Your Commuter

Do not be too concerned about your bicycle’s weight. It is more important to have the right gears.

On my seven-speed, I had the 20-tooth sprocket replaced with a 22-tooth sprocket. It’s an easy change your bike shop can do for about 10-20 dollars. Switching out the sprocket with this larger one makes the bottom gear 10% easier which is good for getting up hills with groceries. It also makes the top gear 10% slower, but I seldom go faster than 30 km/h anyway. You can have even bigger sprockets for super-amazing hill-climbing. Ask your friendly bike shop!

Single Speed Bikes for Commuting? Not Quite

“Commuter Style” Single Speed Bicycles are practical for commuters, standard ones are not. For commuters I don’t understand the appeal of bare single speed bicycles — the bikes without chain guards or enclosed drive trains or built-in lights or built in fenders or a built-in lock. That said, I ride a bare SS bike when I’m not riding my cyclocross, because it is fun and sometimes I like to attack a hill without any help from my gears (until I’m actually on the hill, at which point I question every decision I’ve made).

Cons of Single Speed Bicycle as Commuter:

  • Sure, you can go really fast, but you have to wear really tight trousers or tights or an elastic band over your trousers.
  • If it rains, you get water over all over your clothes since of course there are no fenders.
  • And if it is dark, there are no built in lights so you have to carry lights and worry about batteries running out and losing them or getting them stolen.
  • And if you have to stop somewhere, there’s no built in lock so you have to carry a lock.

For the typical person (but no one is typical), if your commute is less than a block away and the weather is perfect each time you commute, then a single speed without the commuting setup is suitable.

Great Pick: Cyclocross or Gravel Bike

The cyclocross bike is great to have if you can only have one bike. Cyclocross bikes, and now gravel bikes, are starting to emerge as a tour-de-force in the commuting, coffee, and road set crowd.

My friend has been riding a Norco CCX for the better half of a year now and is hooked – it’s one of his all time favourite bikes. The moniker CCX is Norco speak for cyclocross (usually CX), a heritage of bikes that can be dated back almost 100 years.

To understand a bike it helps to understand the environment in which it was developed. The conception of cyclocross dates back to the early 1900s when, for off-season training, European road racers would race each other to the next town. These races were a no holds barred affair that saw riders taking short cuts through fields, over fences and across streams. They were in many ways akin to the modern day courier races, which take a similar approach to city riding.

Out of these early days, the modern sport of cyclocross racing was born and with it the cyclocross bike archetype. A hybrid between classical road bike sensibilities and dirt loving punk ethos, cyclocross bikes have their own unique charm. The road heritage shines through with fast rolling 700c wheels, elegantly narrow tires, drop handlebars and a road-style frame.

The closer you look, the more you will realize these bikes are built for off-road abuse:

  • The frames are beefed-up and have a more relaxed, dirt-friendly geometry;
  • strong cantilever or disc brakes;
  • plenty of tire clearance to accommodate knobby tires and of course, lots of mud.

Cyclocross Commuting Bliss?

In my opinion, cyclocross (or the similar gravel) bikes make one of the best performance commuters available. Swap the knobbies for regular road bike or touring tires, throw on some fenders and you have a great year-round commuter. You can switch out the handlebars if you prefer flat bars over dropbars. The extra tire clearance built into the frames makes it a nearly trivial task to mount full-wrap fenders (unlike most new road bikes, on which this is practically impossible). Manufacturers have also recognized this crossover potential, as almost all cyclocross frames have mounts for fenders and rear pannier racks.

Cyclocross geometry and handling is also ideal for city riding. The riding position is more upright and the handling is quite forgiving, compared to a dedicated road bike.

The bikes, however, do not lack in liveliness. The road heritage peeks through with a ride that is much more responsive than a touring or mountain bike, no matter the handlebar style. This can be important for dodging those manic rush hour car-o-saurs. Finally, many cyclocross bikes have an additional set of brake levers on the top of the drop handlebars. This allows braking from top position as well as from the brake hoods, or the drops.

The Mountain Bike Myth

Far too many urban commuters were sold mountain bikes. My first bike I bought with my own money was a Canadian Tire CCM mountain bike. These bikes were designed to ride at slower speeds on trails, not for faster pavement riding. Why did I buy a mountain bike? I suspect I, like many people, was convinced by the promise of a lifestyle rather than on the merits of the bicycle.

“Mountain bike! I can go anywhere and do anything!” Except none of those things very well.

It is this same promise of off-road adventures that has resulted in our cities becoming clogged with a deluge of SUV behemoths that will never see a splash of real mud.

Do anything and go almost anywhere? This is where the cyclocross bikes excel. While very road capable, the lower gearing and knobby tires mean theses bikes are capable of tackling a variety of off-road conditions: dykes, fire roads, and modest single-track trails. So if you are in the market for a new commuting bike, give a cyclocross or gravel bike a spin.


How to Clean Your Bike in 5 Minutes (or MORE) After a Ride in the Rain

If you’re a real cyclist, you’ll be cleaning your bike after every few rides and definitely after any ride when you get caught in the rain. I deliberately ride in the rain both ways to work (thank you, Vancouver weather).

Sometimes I don’t have all the cleaning tools nor all the time to properly clean my bike, so to prevent problems I give my bike a quick dry down with a paper towel or whatever I can find as soon as I arrive at work. I leave my trusty cyclo-cross in a dry room for a few hours until the ride back home in muddy gritty rainy conditions (I love it!), after which I give my bike a more thorough clean.

Yes, You’d Better Be Wiping Down Your Bike

Cleaning your bike after a ride in the rain is about more than just looking good. Cleaning helps expensive components last longer and keeps all the parts running smoothly. 

Looking like you don’t know how to take care of your bike should be reason enough to break out the soap and chamois. (Vanity is as good a motivation as any.)

If you like to outsource, you’ll want to take your bike to the shop for a deeper cleaning at the end of the season (they will take the whole machine apart, clean it and put it back together, hopefully in that order).

The routines below are perfect for keeping your bike in working order after a rain and throughout the season (and most importantly, making sure you don’t look like a dork).

5-Minute Cleanup: What Do You Do With Your Bike After Riding it in the Rain?

Follow this quick and painless routine for cleaning your bike after a wet ride to keep it looking and working like new:

If you have a stand, use it:

If you have a Euro-style stand, that is easiest because you can spin the bike without getting yourself or your bike dirty. A seatpost stand or a DIY stand works well, too. Or simply lean the bike against a wall and get to work.

Wet it down (again):

TOP DOWN: If you’ve freshly come in from the rain, there is more than just water on your bike.

  • Just like washing your car or your body, you want to hose off the bike starting at the top and working your way down, applying soapy water with a rag or sponge.

If you wash your bike all the time, you likely won’t need to scrub much.

If this is a new practice for you or you’ve let your poor bike marinate for a few days after a muddy ride, you’ll want to scrub away all the grit and grime from the frame, wheels and drivetrain. 

NOTE: Use some caution if applying water with a hose because the pressure might send water into places where it shouldn’t be (bottom bracket, bearings), but so long as you’re not using an industrial-grade power washer you won’t do any damage to your bearings, frame or anything else (unless your bike is already disintegrating). 

Wipe it down:

I usually wipe down the saddle and handlebars with a damp cloth or paper towel instead of dousing it, and avoid soaking anything that is water absorbent, especially if I need to ride the bike again within a few hours. 

WHEELS: Also if you have the time and space to do a proper cleanup, remove your wheels. With the wheels removed, use a rag or wet sponge to clean the rims and brakes — aim for the inside of the brake calipers and brake pads (don’t get oil on the brake pads or wheel rims).

  • If your brakes are super gunky, try a brake cleaner to remove oil, grit and grease, and rehydrate your pads. Pay close attention to the brake surface, where residue from the brake pads collect. If soap doesn’t take it off, a little rubbing alcohol will do the trick. Or maybe it’s a good time to change your brake pads.
  • Give your bike a light rinse to remove the soap from the wheels, frame and components, then put the wheels back on the bike. 

Make sure to clean the spokes, hubs and tires.

Rinse it off:

If you’re outside: Once the bike is clean of road grime, rinse off any remaining soap and dry off the bike. Be sure to use a separate rag for cleaning and driving the drivetrain, to minimize grease transfer to places that should remain free of grease, such as your rims and saddle.

Or if you’re in an apartment with no space to hose a bike without making a regrettable mess: you’ll need a bottle of WD-40 Bike Foaming Wash or some other foaming wash, a brush and a couple of clean rags.

  • Using a foaming spray instead of a good ol’ bucket of soap and water means less mess, but the trade-off is a slightly higher cost in time, money, and effort (but you’re from the city so you should be used to that).

From Dirty Drivetrain to Changed Chain:

  • If you have time, you might want to remove the chain and let it soak.
  • I usually just go over the chain, cassette and gears with a paper towel because that’s all I have at work, but ideally use a stiffer brush to try and get any sand and road build-up off before it gets too comfortable there. 
  • I save the greasy fun parts of the bike for last: Wash away the grit from the chain and re-lubricate it. 

Cleaning and lubricating the chain, aka performing basic chain maintenance, is critical to extending the life of your drivetrain and keeping your bike as quiet and smooth as possible:

  1. This will keep your bike functioning properly and your expensive parts from rusting.
  2. Rusted links will fuse and skip teeth, wear down your drivetrain faster, and cause the chain to weaken and break at critical moments.
  3. There’s no bigger dork than the discombobulated cyclist standing on the side of the road with a bike and a bike chain wrapped around what it shouldn’t be.

The most important step is to finish cleaning the drivetrain and apply a lubricant. 

Start by using a degreaser to remove excess grime that wasn’t dealt with by the soapy sponge. I use ProLink Finish Line’s Speed Degreaser or a less-messy, apartment-friendly solution like Park Tools’ Chain Gang. Regardless of which you choose, your chain should be grit- and grease-free afterwards. 

  • Dip an old rag or a toothbrush into a separate container with a small amount of degreaser, then focus cleaning the front and rear derailleurs, the chain, cassette and crank. A little degreaser goes a long way. 
  • After everything is clean, the final step is to apply a quality chain lube like Dumonde Tech or WD-40 Bike (if you’re anal-retentive use a dry lube when it’s dry out, a wet lube when it’s wet; if you’re not, just use an all-purpose lube).
  • I use ProLink Chain Lube and I don’t spray, I drip or brush a little of the lube onto the chain and wipe with a paper towel or rag.
  • Apply a lubricant to the chain and rub a few drops to any other points where the cables enter or exit the frame.

Once you’ve applied some lube to the chain be sure to wipe off any excess; we only care about what gets inside the chain links, as the lubricant on the outside only serves to attract more dirt and grime.

Dry Your Bike:

While carbon won’t rust, any parts made of steel should be dried thoroughly. Grab a paper towel or towel dry the bike as best you can.

  • Tip: If you decide to polish your bike with a spray, remove the wheels. If polish gets on the braking surface, it’ll reduce friction — a potentially dangerous situation.

Why polish your bike with a protective polish that contains a moisture dispersant and a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene)?

  • This will expel water from the bike, thus preventing corrosion.
  • This will keep the paint really shiny. 
  • It’ll also make your bike easier to clean, as dirt won’t stick as easily.

Enjoy the Interval of Clean.

Whether you have 5 minutes or 20 minutes to wipe down your bike, it now looks better and works better than it would have otherwise. Bask in your bike’s impressive matte glow.

  • Clean Rags or Chamois,
  • WD-40 Foaming Bike Wash,
  • Park Tool Chain Cleaning Kit,
  • Finish Line Easy Pro Brush Set,
  • Finish Line Speed Degreaser,
  • ProLink Chain Lubricant,
  • Work Stand

At minimum: A paper towel, WD-40, and 5 minutes

Is Cycling in the Rain Bad for the Bike?

While fenders can help to keep you and your bike from becoming a complete disaster, you will want to wipe down or at least dry off as much of your bike as you can before leaving your bike to marinate in road muck.

And sometimes you leave your bike sitting out in the rain all day. Neglect! But it happens. So, what do you do to help your bike forget about that day and keep your bike in great shape?

  • Keep all the moving parts well oiled. Lubricating your chain is an easy part of do-it-yourself bike maintenance. Note that even if you only ride on roads there will be more dirt getting on it than flowing away, so you’ll need to give the chain a good clean, let it dry, and oil it. This should stop the mechanicals getting too rusty, some screw heads will rust but not too badly.
  • Wet rims don’t brake as well, especially if the wet isn’t pure, so after riding off the first stop may take longer (and be noisy). If the rain has stop it may be worth applying the brakes (carefully) once or twice right after starting your ride, to get the rims dry.
  • Get a waterproof saddle cover, then take it off when you want to ride – so much more comfortable than a wet saddle, especially if the saddle has stitching which lets the water in. This is better than a plastic bag, because you can leave it on, and only remove it if it’s wet. Alternatively, get a saddle with a plastic surface, then you can just wipe off the rain.
  • If you’re expecting really heavy rain, your lights might not take it (as I found out recently) so you might want to take them with you (of course you might want to anyway so they don’t get stolen). This is for removable lights; if you have lights that are meant to be installed permanently (for dynamo use), they will generally be watertight.
  • If you ride in the rain, then keep the bike in a shed on a damp day, it won’t dry out properly for hours anyway, so the actual outside storage isn’t much extra punishment on top of the ride (assuming of course that it’s wet all day)

Is Leaving Your Bike Out in the Rain a Bad Idea?

Leaving your trusty steed sitting all forlorn out in the rain, or leaving it to drip itself dry after a quick and dirty ride to the store in a rainstorm has all sorts of bad consequences, aside from giving all the impression you’re a total dork (rule #1 in the admittedly vain world of cycling: don’t look like a dork). 

What happens when your bike sits for a period after being out in the rain? Steel rusts. Nuts and bolts solidify and become brittle as they oxidize. Your bike becomes the sad image of neglect.

The oily water and other questionable substances on the road can leave some corrosively gross residue on your bike frame and components, which can affect the way your bike performs and how long it lasts.

  • Leaving sweat on your carbon fiber frame can eat through clearcoat; 
  • letting grit accumulate on your drivetrain can accelerate wear on expensive components like your chain and cassette; 
  • and any leftover dirt on your expensive carbon rims after a rainy ride will etch unwanted grooves the next time you reach for the brakes.

Cleaning your bike is an easy thing to ‘forget’ to do. The dirt is mostly superficial and it’s just going to get dirty again anyway, right? False. Well, yes it will get dirty again but that is irrelevant. 

So yes, please do clean your bike after riding in the rain. A bike does not look nicer after a drive in the rain, as a car might. 

Bike Gear

Biking in the Rain: What To Wear Under Your Helmet To Keep Rain Out

If you live in Vancouver, you already know it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest (over 2.5 metres annually [1]).

And if you live anywhere else and commute by bike, odds are you will encounter a rainy stretch of road once in a while.

Surprisingly, the head area is commonly overlooked when it comes to rain gear for cyclists. Keeping your head dry and eyes free from debris can make a huge difference in how comfortable you are on the bike.

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If you cycle to work no matter the weather and want to keep your head dry, consider these under-helmet options:

Cycling Cap

rain cap gore equipe
Wet-weather bike cap. Photo by Colin McSherry

If you want a minimalist option for all-weather conditions, the cycling cap is a classic you can wear during all your rides. A cycling cap is not the same as a baseball cap. It has a peak, but is made of thin material, the peak is more flexible, and the cap is made of a stretchy material to help achieve the perfect fit.

The cap is great for stopping your hair from going too crazy, with or without the helmet. The word on the street is that you are NOT to wear a cycling cap without a helmet, doing so is a huge indicator of your annoying hipster status.

There are cycling caps made specifically for use in the rain (made of water repellent, non-breathable materials), but a regular cycling cap worn beneath a helmet is a better option than using nothing at all. The cap’s visor will keep water away from your eyes and the extra layer on your head will provide a bit of warmth in cooler spring and autumn temperatures, protecting your head from the effects of air vents without overheating your head like a thermal cap designed for winter temperatures.

Classic Baseball Hat

Personally, I wear a good ol’ baseball cap year around under my helmet to keep my head dry and to keep my hair somewhat manageable.

Nothing beats my special hat.

The brim is a little longer than a cycling cap and helps to keep rain and overhead sunshine out of my eyes. Plus I can wear it without a helmet when I’m not riding my bike!

Yes, the cotton does soak up the rain and sometimes water drips from the rim, but my head stays warm while I ride, and the hat dries quickly.

I can also wash my hat or switch between hats somewhat frequently.


cycling balaclava, a great piece of wet weather gear

A balaclava such as the popular SUGOi MidZero is a great choice for cycling in the rain and snow, and fits comfortably around your head under a bike helmet. The SUGOi MidZero Balaclava is mostly made of a stretchy polyester that fits over your face, neck, and head, keeping you warm and toasty. It works well and dries fast. Plus, it looks super ninja cool.

I have longer hair and this balaclava gives me static-head, so although I will wear it in the dead of winter or on my ride home from work, it isn’t my first choice.

Cycling Bandana


For a versatile and easy-to-pack head gear option, cycling bandanas may be your best bet. Doubling as a mask on dusty days or to keep your face warm on early morning rides, and transforming into an extra layer of protection for your head to keep it semi-warm and dry under your helmet on rainy commute days, the bandana does it all. Plus it dries fast! And it comes in an assortment of unfortunate colours and designs (see above…).

A cycling buff is a similar versatile piece of head, neck and face gear. I like the merino wool material for my buff, but it doesn’t hold its shape as well as some others made of synthetic materials. But I’d rather come to work with a rag around my face smelling faintly like a wet dog than a gym bag (okay, synthetics aren’t quite that bad. But eventually they are).

Cycling Helmet Rain Cover

Technically not something for under your helmet, the helmet cover is something to keep your head and helmet dry.


Many cyclists pick a gore-tex helmet cover as the best protection for riding in a heavy rainfall, since a helmet cover slides over your helmet in a pinch and does an excellent job of keeping you dry. It isn’t the most stylish look, but functionally it does the job. Newer materials have also made helmet covers much more breathable, making them suitable for warmer spring weather as well.

Lots of people in Vancouver wear those gore-tex helmet covers; I prefer my sweaty old baseball cap — it shields my face better and I don’t mind if my hair gets a little wet in a major downpour. I feel alive!


aerohelmets 1

If you want to save a piece of gear and feel the need for speed, wear your aero helmet for rainy day commutes. It will be more aerodynamic (naturally), and with fewer vents, will keep your head better protected from rain drops.

Plus you’ll look like a space cadet.

In winter, if my ears get too cold with my baseball cap leaving my ears exposed, I either wrap my wool buff up around the top of my head, or I wear a tweed hat with ear flaps (something like this one for sale on Amazon

warm tweed hat for winter cycling

In summer, I wear my usual light cycling hat or a ball cap.

How Do You Keep Your Hair Dry When Cycling in the Rain?

If you don’t have a cap or hat or bandana or any head gear to protect your hair from rain, put your hood on under your helmet to keep your hair dry. If you wear make-up and it’s raining heavily, wait to put your face on at work (or wear goggles to protect your eye make-up).

Banish helmet hair even if you have long hair: If you prefer to wear your hair down, draw your hair back into a loose braid and stick it up under your helmet. Shake it out once you get to work, give it a quick spray of dry shampoo if you must, and you’re good to go.

There are tons of hairstyles out there that will remain looking perfect even after you flatten it with a helmet during a long bike ride.


Bicycling as a Family: From Newborn to Independent

When cyclists have babies, wanting to incorporate the kids into the usual transportation routine is pretty natural. Some find it a necessity.

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family cycling1
Cycling is fun for the whole family

At What Age is it Safe to Ride a Bike With Your Newborn?

When the child can support his or her own neck, at around the age of one, is the consensus for the age at which a newborn can begin riding in his or her own bike seat. Appropriate bike trailers are reasonably safe for newborns, particularly when your newborn is buckled into a regular car seat that is strapped into a well-constructed trailer (from Thule, Croozer or Burley, for example). Use your own discretion.

In certain circumstances, biking with a child trailer has fewer risks. If you are really set on biking with a baby or young child, the following suggestions from BCHealth can help you minimize the risk of injury:

  • Children younger than 1 year should not ride in any type of seat mounted on your bicycle. Before sitting in a rear-mounted seat, your child must sit well without support and be able to wear a lightweight helmet. These types of child carriers must:
    • Attach securely over the rear wheel.
    • Have spoke guards so your child’s hands and feet will not get caught in the wheels.
    • Have a secure shoulder harness, lap belt, and a high back. A child should be able to fall asleep and be well supported.
  • If you are using a trailer seat for your child, always have him or her wear a lightweight infant bike helmet.
  • Be careful where you ride. Do not ride with your child on busy streets, even where there is a bike lane. Try to ride in bicycle-only areas, such as recreational paths.
  • Do not ride with your child during bad weather.
  • Never carry infants in backpacks or front packs on a bike.
  • Remember to take frequent breaks when carrying your infant in a bike seat or trailer. The standard advice for car seats also applies to the Baby Seat: never leave your child in the seat for more than an hour or two at a time. The back and abdominal muscles of your baby are not strong enough and need to relax now and then. Take a break and let them stretch out and rest for a while.

Bike Seats or Trailers for Babes & Toddlers


Look for a trailer like the Croozer that provides a protective cocoon for young passengers in traffic:

  • Children from 0 to 6 years of age can ride in the Croozer.
  • Unlike a child bike seat, the trailer has a safe and roomy passenger compartment with a full internal roll cage that completely surrounds your child, providing unbeatable protection from all sides.
  • The Croozer Baby Seat was specially designed for infants aged 1 to 10 months, with safety as the top priority.
  • The Baby Seat is mounted to the trailer frame at eight attachment sites. This system is not only incredibly stable, but also absorbs shocks and vibrations. The infant “floats” in a safe and secure baby hammock inside the passenger compartment of the child trailer.

Compared to child bike seats, trailers tend to be safer. 

  • Trailer Pro: A good-quality trailer (Thule, Burley) provides protection to your child in the event of a crash or a tip-over. 
  • With a bike seat, if the parent crashes, the child does, too.
  • Bike Seat Pro: with a front-mounted bike seat you have your child close by where you can talk to and easily interact with them.  
  • In a trailer, it is much harder to see and hear how your child is doing. 
  • A bike seat is also much lighter than a trailer, which can create a lot of drag when you are climbing hills.

Fred’s son used to wail inconsolably every time they went on a car trip. “You know there’s that baby thing where you drive them around the block and they go to sleep?” Fred says. “He was like, ‘I’m strapped in, and nobody’s holding me, and when I scream they can’t pick me up because they’re driving.’”

So he and his family sold their car and decided to get around by bicycle instead.

“You put him in the bike seat and he’s asleep in five minutes,” Fred says of his son, now two. “He’s just a bicycle baby.” The family owns several bikes, including a Breezer Villager equipped with an XtraCycle, a BoBike seat, and a Wilderness Energy power system.

This family is part of a new generation that’s happily realizing that having “two kids” does not always end in “and a minivan.”

Xtracycle with hoop seat for toddlers

The birth of Chicago resident and avid cyclist Natalie’s first child put a temporary halt to her riding. But after her second child came along, she received a bike trailer as a gift. “That was my epiphany moment,” Natalie says. “I took the kids out for a ride and thought ‘Wow, this is so cool.’”

For her, cycling is not only important for the environment, it’s important for health. “We live in a low-income community with a really high rate of obesity,” Natalie says. “I want my kids to be physically active.”

Today, she leads a popular Friday night bike ride for her own three children (ages from 4 to 10) and up to 15 other neighbourhood kids.

The kids love it, and the neighbourhood parents like it too. “They’re happy we’re doing something positive.”

Cycling While Pregnant & Beyond

In the 1990s, Pat rode her bike to work 45 minutes each way – and she didn’t let a little thing like pregnancy stop her. She cycled till she was practically “kicking myself in the stomach,” she laughs. Many years later, Pat and her family of four are still car-free.

“We had all these different stages,” Pat says. “We had one kid in the trailer, and then one kid in the trailer and one kid on the bike backseat, and then we had two kids in the trailer, then one in the trailer and one on the trail-a-bike.”

Wee Ride front-mount bike seat

Pat says half the battle of being a car-free family is simply deciding to make it work. “There are two kinds of opposing halves: one is planning carefully, and the other is just to assume you can do it. You’re going to be able to get around without a car, which isn’t always bikes. But you’re going to be able to get around.”

Two years ago, when their son came along, Pete and Sue wanted to keep cycling. But the bike trailer was out. “In Sue’s mind it was safer to have our son where she could see him rather than dragged behind,” says Pete, “especially in heavy traffic.”

That’s when Pete stumbled on the bakfiets, or “box bike,” which puts the child and cargo in front of the rider. He imported one from Holland, and when Lucas was old enough, they took him for his first ride. “He loved it from day one. We went down the seawall and he was just pointing at things, going, ‘boat’, ‘bike’, pointing at people.”

Bakfiets, the Dutch cargo bikes

Rain City Bikes was the first to distribute the bakfiets in Canada. “We had a couple of moms roll in with a kid on the front, a kid on the back, and panniers… the bikes were unsteady and wobbling on a kickstand,” says Rain City Bikes. “That’s the perfect customer, somebody who’s outgrown the bicycle and needs something more.”

Families who cycle are passionate about the benefits. “Cycling teaches kids how to be independent and how to get around on their own power,” says Natalie. Her children are also “really clued in to the seasons” because of how much time they spend outdoors.

Growing with Children

But cycling with the family isn’t always peachy keen, and it changes as kids go through different stages. Amelie bikes her six-year-old daughter to school on a trail-a-bike almost every day. “She hates it,” Amelie admits. “She would like to just sit on the back [and not pedal], and I’m not strong enough.” Another thing Amelie finds frustrating: the lack of bike racks at her daughter’s school. “It rains for nine months of the year here; it’s crazy not to have covered bike racks.”

According to Natalie, the hardest part about family cycling is going on longer trips with four bikes and a trailer. Being able to take your bike on public transit has made things easier, but it’s “not really designed for family use. There’d be room for just two bikes and then there’d be the trailer.”

But for these families, the good points far outweigh the challenges.

“When you’re cycling, you’re out in the world, you’re engaged with the world in a way you can’t be with a car,” Amelie says.


Cycling Stereotypes: Why the Bike Snobbery?

One of cycling’s greatest strengths and beauties lies in its its diversity, yet lately I have been noticing a disturbing undercurrent of bike snobbery emerging. Against who you might ask? Believe, it or not, it’s against roadies.

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Vancouver is a funny place, it is a cultural mosaic if you will. Decide on an ethos, find a group that exudes this ethos, then eye suspiciously everyone else. Part of this is human nature and part of it is distinctly a Vancouver (or West Coast?) trait.

pexels genaro servin 7633981
Photo by Genaro Servín. Although this was taken in Italy, it feels like cycling in Vancouver.

A friend who moved here recently, noticed this trend. She wanted to live by the ocean, so she chose Kits. However, she had no idea the implied lifestyle that went with the rental unit (i.e. you wear Lu-lu Lemon and own a VW).

Similarly, as she got out and experienced more of the Vancouver cycling community she noticed a similar arbitrary grouping delineated on what bike you ride and what clothes you wear. I would have to say, I agree with her astute observation.

Personally, I am all over the map. I commute, I tour, I ride mountain bikes, I have ridden a fixed gear bike for years and, believe it or not, I am a hard core roadie to boot.

When I am not working, in my spare time I am usually putting in miles or racing. I love road riding (the style, the bikes, the work ethic) as much as I love the idea of doing everything by bike, a decision I made many years ago at the ripe age of 19.

It then dismays me when I come across statements such as:

“This can be a problem for Lycra-clad roadies who gauge their manhood by the slimness of their saddles and the sheen of their freshly-shaved legs…”

-Practical Pedal summer 2007.

Hey, I am for a little ribbing just as much as the next person, but recently I have been hearing more and more negative comments. For example:

“All racers are selfish, they are just trying to exert their supremacy over other people.”

“I went to a Tuesday Night-er (the local training race), and saw some guy yelling at another. The races are just an agro affair.”

Then the other day, while on the bike route, I was amazed by a statement a friend made when he found out a lot of people who race bikes also commuted by bike. To quote, he exclaimed,

“I thought they just drive their bikes to the nearest coffee shop and sit!”

Given the rise of such sentiments, I figured I would do some work to dispel the myths.

Dispelling the Myths

Myth 1: Thin saddles = Manliness?

This is plain madness. Just as there are different strokes for different folks, there are different saddles for different body types. The majority of hardcore roadies are quite thin, to the point of almost being too thin. This is of course a generalization, as I have seen all types of body types at all levels of competition. But, if you are making saddles and selling to your market you have to generalize a bit. And if you are a thin skinny roadie, the thin, narrow saddles tend to be much more comfortable than the “comfort” saddles currently in the market place. Just because something doesn’t work for you, please don’t assume it is the same for everyone else.

Myth 2: Shaved legs?

My favourite is the disdain I hear is over shaved legs. Most cyclists like to consider themselves mavericks and anarchists, a person who brings societal norms into question. Well guys shaving their legs is not a societal norm, so why the hate?

There aren’t packs of roadies, with razors in hand, waiting at the nearest coffee shop to jump on the first commuter they see with hairy legs. I have shaved my legs for years and I like it. It’s part of a roadie tradition and to me indicates that you have made a certain commitment to the sport. When the hair comes off, its time to go fast.

Myth 3: Roadies don’t commute, they just drive their bikes around in their fancy cars.

I have no idea where that one came from. Racing road I have noticed there are people from all walks of life, from construction to law, from students to +55. Some have expensive cars, many do not, while others do not own a car. While some sort of automotive transportation is often required to get to races (either renting, car pooling or ownership), the majority, when asked, would rather be riding their bike.

In order to compete you need to train about 12-20 hours a week. Since most also work a full time job, from a practicality standpoint commuting is a great way to put in time in the saddle. But, it goes much further than that.

Sit back and think about how much riding 20hr/wk works out to be. That is four hours a day, five days out of seven. That is a lot of riding. Pure desire to exert your manliness cannot sustain that kind of time in the saddle. You are there riding your bike out of the pure love of riding your bike.

That is the same love that gets the fixed gear rider, the commuter, the weekender, the chopper, the whatever rider out on his/her bike everyday.

Myth 4: All roadies want to race 24/7

I think this is one of the biggest myths going. Many urban cyclists see a rider in the full regalia or “kit” — roadie speak for the tight form fitting spandex uniform you see bike racers wear — and instantly see that as an invitation to race. You can be riding along on the bike route, minding your own business when out of no where a non-kitted cyclist comes by and gives you an informal challenge to race.

You have done nothing to invoke this challenge except wear the clothes. The challenges are never spoken, but pretty clear. As they pass you can hear the pedals mashing, they give you a glare, nearly run you into the gutter, then repeatedly check back to see if you are chasing.

I have heard some funny lines during these informal challenges

“Took you long enough to catch up”
-Older gentleman

“Don’t you hate it when some one passes you like this?”
-Squeaky bike man

The second quote is my personal favourite, as it has to do with this fellow who was continually passing me on my way home. I was spinning at a constant pace with no desire one way or another to catch up, pass or otherwise exert my manliness. Suddenly, this fellow on a squeaky bike would just hammer, blow by me, then a few blocks later slow completely down. I would of course catch up by riding my same continual pace. Once caught he would hammer again, pass me and then slow down.

This pattern happened all the way from Burnaby to Vancouver. Finally after something like the 7th time he scowled at me and made a number of derogatory remarks about my bike and “my type.” Then came the climax, he said

“Don’t you hate it when some one passes you like this?”

The statement caught me so off guard I was seriously trying not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

Finally, the kicker came at a recent favourite at critical mass of all places. A place that is supposed to celebrate love, acceptance and diversity. I was riding a fixed-gear at the time so I was privy to the following

“Yeah, I just blew by this dumb roadie. You should have seen the look on his face when I handed him his ass.”
-Agro fixed gear rider at July’ 2007 Critical Mass.

I saw the whole incident and I suspect the roadie was giving him the look of horror because he was run off the road and nearly into oncoming traffic by the fixed-bragger. Passing someone in critical mass, is not the point of critical mass.

What Roadies Really Want

I can’t speak for all roadies, but most that I know do not want to race random people on the street. The reasons are pretty simple:

  1. Most of the time, when we are riding in the city we are cooling off or warming up or simply getting from point A to B — remember, we commute too.
  2. We usually have some sort of training schedule and are not out on the hunt for competition.
  3. Even if we were, we have no idea if the “challenger” can ride in a straight line. The last thing you want is to be taken out while doing something silly like racing on a bike commute route.
  4. Finally, probably the most important, the desire to “prove” yourself all the time just isn’t there.

I have even heard a number of women roadies complain that guys are continually challenging them whenever they are riding on the bike routes so much that they feel they can’t just ride at a comfortable pace or they hear all sorts of snide, negative comments. Some of them even make it a habit to avoid major bike routes so they don’t have to be exposed to the negativity.

Myth 5: All roadies are selfish or snobs

Probably the biggest quasi myth is that all roadies are snobs. To some extent we are, for example see this post.

Most bike snobbery has to do with a right of passage to becoming a full blown roadie. Anyone can buy the gear, but have you put in the time in the saddle to be fast. However, everyday is not a race, so one way to those who have earned their star is by looking at the details. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to follow these rules just the ones that want to claim “roadie” status.

In addition, the snobbery label probably comes from the fact many are focused when on the bike. Quite often those that are on their road bikes and in kit are training. Athletes tend to be focused people. It’s nothing personal, it’s just who they are.

Interestingly, I make it a habit to wave to other cyclists while riding on the bike route while wearing my kit. Most ignore me outright. Likely they are thinking about a billion things. I don’t take it personally.

Myth 6: Liking expensive bikes means you hate the poor (The Bike Snob)

This is less a myth and more a personal experience. A number of years ago, a girlfriend at the time would see how I looked longingly at bikes and how I would vocally criticize the K-Mart bikes. My disdain mainly comes from the fact these bikes offer poor value for the money. In an effort to bring them to market, K-Mart or whoever, puts on cheap shocks and other unnecessary equipment. As a result you are left with bikes that, to the untrained eye, look like more expensive bikes, but are in fact more heavy than they need to be, ride like they have square wheels and quite frankly are a danger to the rider as much as to society.

If these manufacturers wanted to create quality affordable bikes, they should worry less about styling and create a much more rideable bike for the same dollar value. Instead, they take advantage of the poor by offering non-functional knock-offs.

However, she translated my disdain into the “truth” that I somehow hated people who couldn’t afford expensive bikes. Then all of a sudden I was labeled as being against the poor, when in fact I was against shitty marketing tactics. I suspect part of the problem was that at the time, she owned a K-Mart style bike. A little later, she ended up buying this nice used bike that was fairly high end. She marveled at how light it was (easy to carry up stairs) and how easy it was to ride. I never heard another word again about being a bike snob.

Myth 7: All roadies are rich

While there is a plethora of expensive gear in road riding, that does attract its share of tech hungry gear heads. Most roadies are probably not as rich as you think. If you race, you are probably part of a club/team and as such get deals on gear.

But that is not the whole story. Life is about choices. For many “roadies” it is a lifestyle decision. Fancy music player or a wheel set? Hmm… wheel set it is.

Many I know do what they can to cut costs so they can swing the gear. Some of it may be gear envy, but truth be told at a higher levels of cycling the gear does play a large role. For example, in a time trial (Point A to Point B, quickest time wins) an aerodynamic helmet can shave a minute off your time. When a minute can mean 10 placings, you save up for that new aero helmet.

I am not condoning or justifying mass ownership of gear, roadies could learn a few things, but the stereotypes are somewhat uninformed

Is History The Problem?

I suspect the majority of the disdain towards roadies started from how cycling has been promoted over the last couple decades, that is through its worth as a sport. What was lost was the fact cycling first and foremost empowers people with the simple pleasure of freedom.

Unfortunately, most of the previous big cycling booms in North America have come from different forms of competitive cycling that caught the main stream eye. In the 70’s it was road riding and with it a boom of cheap 10-speeds. In the late 80’s and 90’s it was the inception of mountain biking and with it the proliferation of cheap mountain bikes in the city.

Most of these bikes were built for a specific sport, not for commuting per se. The result has been people have been riding the wrong bikes for them (they wanted a city bike all the time). That combined with the fact mass media pushes the cycling as a sport over a form of transportation or personal empowerment, has left a lot of people feeling marginalized and even more resentful.

While this may seem rather grim, have faith my cycling brethren. The media and public are finally waking up to global warming in the last couple years. People are thinking more about alternative transportation and finally North American manufactures are waking up to this possibility.

I believe we are all on the cusp of a new renaissance. Where we don’t look at what type of bike you ride, but instead celebrate the fact you are riding in the rain, sleet, snow, spring sun shine and cool summer nights. So hang in there, your time is now.


Beginner Urban Commuters: A Rough Guide to the City Bike

In North America, it has been a long-standing tradition to sell naked bikes with the conceit of being city-ready.

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While the geometry and handling of “hybrid” and/or “comfort” bikes have been designed with urban riding in mind, these bikes often lack important transportation-oriented features such as a chain guard, fenders, lights, and racks.

This sends a message that these bikes should not be ridden with regular clothing, in the rain, at night, or with a load. In other words, they are for recreational purposes only. Compare this with Europe, where cycling is a well-accepted form of urban transportation and city bikes come standard with all the above-mentioned features.

The City Bike Can (Almost) Do It All

In North America, the onus has been on the urban cyclist to do a three-step city bike shuffle: Step 1) buy a bike; step 2) buy everything else you need; step 3) mount these extra purchases on said bike. While great for DIY types, it is an unnecessary barrier to cycling’s acceptance as a valid form of transportation.

Thankfully, the times they are a-changin’. North American bike manufacturers are listening, and we are finally seeing the emergence of transportation-focused bikes. While every urban cyclist has slightly different needs, here are some common things to look for.

Classic Commuter Bike Styles

Bike 1: Fisher Simple City 8
$549-$879, find it used


Great riding position for city. Amazing basket, fenders and chain guard mean you can just hop on the bike and go. Quite reliable. “Great bike to ride all year round in hilly terrain, temp between -10c and 35c. I have 5 bikes but this one gets ridden 95% of the time even though it is the slowest and heaviest.” – User Review

Bike 2: Breezer Finesse
Long-term Breezer Finesse Review

breezer finesse1

The Finesse is a flat bar commuter-oriented bike.

Bike 3: Civia Hyland
discontinued, find it used

hyland civia

Bike 4: Electra Amsterdam Royal 8i
December 2020 review

electraamsterdam 4

Bike 5: Giant TranSend


Choosing Your Bike: You Have To Be Able To Use It… All The Time

City bikes are suited for the urban commute. Given the cost of real estate and the prime value of storage space, after determining that you wish to join the fit ranks of bike commuter and outdoor adventurist, if only for the span of your commute, the question you must ask yourself is: “How many bikes do I need and how much space do I have to safely and conveniently store them?”

If you have room for only 1 bike, opt for the bike that can handle all or 80 percent of your needs. (If you want to downhill ride, get a rental on the hill instead of trying to put your daily commuter and your body through that torture.)

If a bike is to be used as a primary form of transportation, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snazzy party dress should keep you from your destination. Look for full wrap fenders (which should cover a large proportion of the wheel) to keep road grime and wet off your clothes (bikes 1-5). Look also for a chain guard to protect loose clothing from the pull of the chain (bikes 1 and 3-5). Ideally, the bike should also come with a self-powered lighting system to get you home when the sun goes down (bikes 2-4).

Choose a bike that can keep you protected from the elements. Euro-style bikes are designed out-of-the-box for foul weather. Euro-style bikes are ideal for rainy weather, and for urban commuting in general. And in fact in Amsterdam, where the weather can be just as rainy, the Euro-style bikes (obviously) predominate over road bikes and mountain bikes.

A Steel Packhorse?

For better or worse, we will always need to carry stuff with us, and a true city bike should offer a helping hand. Look for bikes to come with either pannier racks (bikes 2-5) or baskets (bike 1) to carry your goodies to and fro. Also check to see how the bike handles with a load: a good city bike should keep its manners while working.

Simple and Reliable

City bikes need to be ready four seasons per year without much intervention. This can mean smart cable routing (e.g. bike 3) and/or full cable housings (see bikes 1-5), internally geared hubs which are sealed from the climate (bikes 1, 2, and 4), and puncture-resistant tires. If an external derailleur system is used, look for those with fewer gears (i.e. bike 5), as they tend to be more robust. Also bolted (versus quick- release) wheels and saddle may be preferable, since quick-release parts can be easily stolen.

Finally, look to see if the manufacturer took measures to reduce rusting. This may include the use of stainless steel, alloy, or galvanized parts. If in doubt, ask.

Safety by Design

City bikes should have an upright riding position for good sightlines and to increase your visibility in traffic. The bike’s handling must be stable, so that if you hit the odd pothole unexpectedly you are not thrown into traffic.

Safety includes the ability to stop, so your bike requires strong brakes. Disc brakes are becoming more common (see bikes 2-4). These are quite reliable and long-lasting once set up properly, and a good bike shop will set them up for you. Most rim brakes will also work fine, with the only real caveat being that the pads may wear out more quickly if you ride a lot in wet weather.

Avoid bikes that have rim brakes coupled to steel rims, as wet-weather braking will be non-existent. Most modern rims are non-magnetic alloy; cheaper steel rims are easily detected with a magnet.

Safety Means Being Seen

Most city bikes will at some point be ridden at night and, more often that not, bikes are sold without lights, leaving it as a problem for the buyer to solve. This is where the industry has room to improve (the improvement may be seen on bikes 2-4).

In an ideal world a “complete” city bike should come with lights that are 1) bright day or night, 2) powered by a generator so you’re not caught with dead batteries, and 3) work for a short period of time even when you are not moving. The bike industry has come up with all sorts of technological solutions to other problems; why this one remains overlooked is inexplicable.

Comfort and Efficiency

City bikes need to be comfortable and efficient. You don’t want to show up at your destination with a sore back and covered in sweat. In terms of efficiency, larger-diameter wheels combined with slick or semi-slick tires reduce rolling resistance.

Body contact points are often overlooked. These include the saddle, handgrips, and handlebar position. If you plan to ride for long periods of time, look for high-quality saddles (firm and supportive), and handlebars with multiple hand positions (e.g. bike 2). Each person’s body is different, so take your time to find out what fit works for you. Here again, the bike shop should help you.

Style is as Style Does

Euro-style commuting bikes are much more practical than other forms of bicycles because of their built-in wheel locks, kickstands, lights, chain guards, and sexy looks (arguably).

At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to look smoking hot as they ride from point A to B? For many, cycling is a lifestyle choice. As such, a bike can be an extension of the self. So don’t hesitate to style it up; the more attractive you feel, the more you’ll want to ride!


Cyclist, Know Thy Bicycle: Parts of Your Bike

You can ride a bike without knowing you’re sitting on a saddle and not a seat, but if your tire gets a snakebite flat or your spoke needs an adjustment, will you know which parts need attention and how to talk shop decently enough to get what you need to get back on the road?

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After reading this glossary of bike parts, the answer is yes, yes you will. Worst case, you’ll know enough not to embarrass yourself.

bikeanatomywordart 1

Essential Bicycle Parts (Most Bikes)


Let us start at the bottom with something obvious. The pedal is the piece you already know: it is here that a cyclist places their feet. The pedal is attached to the crank arm. The crank arm is rotated by the cyclist as they pedal, thus spinning the chain around the chain ring, and from whence the power of movement begins.

Chain ring

A chain ring is the round, spiky wheel connected to your cranks. It is wrapped by a chain, which it pulls around Chain rings are literally the necessary cog in the machine that is your bike. They’re the part responsible for transmitting the energy you create by turning the rear wheel via the chain.

Front derailleur

The front derailleur is the mechanism that changes the front gears by lifting the chain from one chain wheel to another (if your bike has more than one chain ring; it allows the cyclist to adapt to road conditions. How a front derailleur works.

Chain (or drivechain)

The chain consists of a set of metal links meshing with the sprockets on the chain wheel and gear wheel to transmit the pedaling motion to the rear wheel. Simple.

The drivechain on a bike consists of all the mechanics that push (or pull) the bike along: pedals, cranks, chain rings, chain, cogs (cassette) and derailleur.

The crankset (in the US) or chainset (in the UK), is the component of a bicycle drivetrain that converts the reciprocating motion of the rider’s legs into rotational motion used to drive the chain or belt, which in turn drives the rear wheel. [source]

Chain stay

The chain stay is the tube that connects the pedal and crank to the rear-wheel hub.

Rear derailleur

The rear derailleur is the rear gear-changing mechanism on bikes with multiple speeds. It acts by lifting the chain from one gear wheel to another, and allows the cyclist to adapt to changing verticals and road conditions.

Rear brake

The rear brake is usually situated near or on the right handlebar. The rear brake is the mechanism activated by a brake cable, comprising a caliper and return springs; it forces a pair of brake pads against the wheel sidewalls to stop the bicycle via friction.

Seat tube

The seat tube is the part of the bicycle frame that leans slightly to the rear. Inserted within it is the seat post, and below at the opposite end, the seat tube joins the pedal mechanism.

Seat stay

The seat stay is the diagonal tube connecting the top of the seat tube with the rear-wheel hub.

Seat post

Component supporting and attaching the seat, inserted to variable depth into the seat tube to adjust the seat’s height.


It seems counter-intuitive since the seat post supports this piece, but the saying goes “sit on a seat, straddle a saddle,” so the saddle is the small triangular spot attached to the bicycle’s frame upon which a cyclist sits their seat. Clear as mud.


The crossbar, aka the top tube, is the horizontal part of the frame connecting the head tube with the seat tube, stabilizing the frame.

Down tube

The down tube is the part of the bicycle frame connecting the head tube to the bottom bracket where the crank attaches to the frame. The down tube is the longest and thickest tube in the frame and gives it its rigidity.

Bottom bracket

The bottom bracket on a bicycle connects the crankset (aka chainset) to the bicycle and allows the crankset to rotate freely. It contains a spindle to which the crankset attaches, and the bearings that allow the spindle and cranks to rotate. The chain rings and pedals attach to the crank arms (sometimes just called cranks).

Tire valve

The tire valve: each wheel has a small pneumatic tire valve sealing the inflation opening of the inner tube; it allows air to enter but prevents it from escaping. Usually a shrader valve on a mountain bike, and presta valve on a road bike.


A spoke is a thin metal spindle connecting the hub to the rim. Each bicycle wheel has many spokes arranged across its length, giving the wheel its strength and shape.

Tire or tyre

The tire is the part of the bike that touches the road. The tire is usually made of cotton and steel fibers coated with rubber, mounted on the rim to form the casing for the inner tube, the part inflated with air (unless the tire is tubeless).


The rim is the metal circle constituting the wheel’s circumference and on which the tire is mounted. The brake pads grip the rim’s sidewalls when brake levers are engaged.


The front hub is the middle of the wheel from which the spokes radiate outward to the rim. Ball bearings within the hub enable it to rotate around its axle. The fork attaches at the front hub, and the rear stay attaches to the rear hub.


The fork is the two tubes connected to the head tube and attached to each end of the front-wheel hub. The fork’s offset influence’s the bike’s handling characteristics.

Front brake

The front brake mechanism is engaged by pulling a brake cable, which forces a pair of brake pads to grip the rim sidewalls to slow down the front wheel.

Brake lever

The brake lever is attached to the handlebars. The cyclist activates (squeezes) the brake caliper at the handlebars and the brakes activate at the rim sidewall via a brake cable.

Head tube

The head tube attaches the stem to the fork and down tubes and uses ball bearings to transmit the steering movement to the fork.


The stem of a bike is adjustable, a cyclist can raise or lower the stem height depending on the reach of the rider and desired riding positioning. The stem is inserted into the head tube and supports the handlebars.


The handlebars attach to the bike stem, and are the way by which a cyclist steers and brakes the bicycle.

Brake cable

The brake cable is an entwined, covered steel cable running along the length of the top tube or down tube depending on the bike style, and transmits the pressure exerted on the brake lever to the brake when the cyclist squeezes the brake lever.


The shifter is the lever for changing gears via tension on a cable that moves the derailleur and ultimately, the chain.

Here is a handy, more detailed diagram illustrating the parts of a road bike or mountain bike from RideOn Down Under.

Optional Bicycle Parts

toe clip

Toe clip: This is a metal/plastic/leather device attached to the pedals that covers the front of the feet, keeping the feet in the proper position and increasing peddling power.

Reflector: Device returning light toward its source so that other users of the road might see the cyclist.

Fender: Piece of curved metal covering part of the wheel to protect the cyclist from being splashed by water.

Panniers: A bicycle pannier is a basket, bag, box, or similar container, carried in pairs, attached to the sides of a bicycle or motorcycle.

Rear light: A red light, solid or flashing, that makes the cyclist visible in the dark from behind.

Front Rack: Rack on the front of the bike. Lowrider racks are touring bikes as they keep your pannier weight as low as possible to the ground; this allows heavily-laden touring bikes to feel as stable as possible at low to medium speeds. Porteur racks are designed to stabilise large front loads above the wheel. Randonneur front racks are used to support the weight of small randonneur bags.

Carrier (aka Rear Rack): Device attached to the back of the bicycle for carrying bags (panniers) on either side, and securing packages on top.

Tire pump: Device that compresses air and is used to inflate a bicycle tire’s inner tube. Usually has both a presta and schrader valve.

Water bottle clip: Metal or Plastic support attached to the down tube or the seat tube for carrying the water bottle.

Headlight: Lamp attached at the front of the bike, illuminating the ground a few yards in front of the bicycle. Usually white light, flashing or solid.


Know Your Bike: Rake and Trail

First: “what the fork is a bike’s rake and trail?!” you might be asking.

“Rake” refers to the angle between the bicycle’s front forks and the ground, and is also known as its offset.

“Trail” is the distance between the pivot axis of the fork and the centre of the contact patch of the front tire at the ground. We will go into more detail below about how to measure this, just know that trail is one of the most important determiners of your bike’s handling characteristics.

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How to Measure the Rake of a Bike Fork

Measuring the rake of a fork takes a little mental gymnastics – here is the easiest way to figure it out:

what the fork 1
  • First, draw an imaginary line that follows the steer tube of the fork.
  • Next, following the same angle as the first line, draw a line through the middle of the drop-outs of the fork – the slots where the front wheel’s axle sits. The distance between the two lines (measured along a third line which runs perpendicular to both) is the rake of the fork.

By itself, rake means nothing. When installed on a bike, a fork’s rake will alter the bike’s trail – which is again easier to measure than to explain.

Next, Measure Your Bike’s Trail

the pink on the ground is the bike's measured trail
the pink is the measured trail

Having installed your fork on your bike, and added wheels, tire, etc., follow the first imaginary line above (which will be following both the fork’s steer tube and the frame’s head tube) to the ground. Now, draw a vertical line from the middle of the fork’s dropouts to the ground – which is where the front wheel touches the ground. Measure the distance between the two points on the ground and you have the bike’s trail – the distance by which the front wheel can be said to “trail” behind the bike (or at the least the bike’s fork’s theoretical point of contact with the ground). The rake of a bicycle’s fork is one factor in determining its trail, with the others being the angle of the frame’s head tube and the size of the wheel (including tire).

Why Care About a Bike’s Trail?

All other things being equal, the less rake the fork has, the greater the bike’s trail – and vice versa.

As a measurement, a bike’s trail is an important determiner of how it will handle. The greater a bicycle’s trail number, the more stable its handling.

Inversely, the lower the bicycle’s trail number is, the more maneuverable or “twitchy” – that is, the easier to overcome its tendency to go in a straight line – it will be.

So why didn’t the sales guy at the shop where you bought your bike tell you about trail? If it affects the way your bike handles, you’d think it would be something that you want to know about, if not choose, right?

Well, the fact is that most bikes have a pretty standardized amount of trail.

For a given type of bicycle, you want a particular kind of handling.

A bike with lots of trail will be directionally stable: it will tend to go straight and be easy to ride hands-off even when the road is a little uneven. Such a bike will take more physical effort to steer than a bike with less trail.

For example, touring bikes should be pretty stable, while a racing bike should be more maneuverable.

If someone tried to design a twitchy touring bike or a racer that handled like a truck, they’d quickly be out of a job.

How Does Fork Rake Affect Handling?

But if you did want to change the handling characteristics of a given bicycle, one (and probably the easiest) way to do it would be change to a fork with a different rake.

Just remember, trail and rake have an inverse relationship.

High Rake = Less Trail = Less Stability but More Responsive Handling

Road bikes and bikes with narrower handlebars are built for better handling.

If you changed the curved fork on your road bike to a straight one that followed the same, steep line as the frame’s head tube, your bike would actually become more stable, and less responsive.

Low Rake = More Trail = More Stability

On the other hand, should you select the fork with the least amount of rake, you’re effectively building a “randonneur” — a bicycle that’s meant to be ridden at speed over long distances. For such an application, you’d want something stable, and a low-rake fork provides lots of trail. Cruisers and touring bikes are examples of bicycle styles with more trail.

A mid-rake fork will perform reasonably well for both stability and responsiveness. . . but where’s the fun in that?