In the early 80s my father purchased orange “soft compound” tires for our mountain bikes. We thought these tires would provide us year-round enjoyment of our mountain bikes. That is until we tried them on a lake; we spent more time falling than riding.
Frankly, it was a miserable experience, but a learning one. I felt mountain biking was a poor choice in the winter, that’s what x-country skiing is for. Three things have changed my opinion on that; inconsistent winters, fat bikes, and groomed trails.
Durham Forest has many groomed trails by DMBA, and the introduction of groomed fat biking has paved the way for some great mountain bike rides. When the conditions are right, I might even prefer fat biking in the winter, to summer riding. There is something about hammering through groomed winter single-track on a fat bike; it feels surreal as the trails are so smooth and you can really session a descent.
I must warn those not used to fat biking! The freeze, thaw, freeze cycles typical to Southern Ontario winters means that trails can be icy, and sometimes just in sections. My fat bike doesn’t have studded tires, so often I borrow my dad’s bike with studs if the weather is inconsistent. A few locals have aggressively studded their own tires using screws, but that limits your ability to ride on the road and transport as you don’t want your auto interior filled with puncture marks!
Crashing on the ice is terrible, and on some occasions, it results in pretty serious injury. A local bike shop owner took a crash on ice breaking his leg! Studs won’t guarantee you grip; but a combination of choosing your days, reading the conditions and controlling your speed will keep you safe with, or without studded tires. Adjust to a pressure of 3 – 8 psi depending on rider weight and conditions as it will help you find additional grip; people tend to error with too much pressure in their tires.
While expensive carbon fat bikes can be purchased; my personal bike is aluminum, and relatively inexpensive. My father’s bike is an even less expensive version, but with studded tires, and I don’t notice a difference in the ride except in the extra grip. If you are going to spend the money, buy the studded tires and not fancy components. A fat bike is built for comfort, not for speed!
I have clip-less pedals, insulated cycling boots, lightweight winter jacket, balaclava and warm gloves. But I have ridden my father’s bike with flat pedals and regular winter boots; the ride was totally fine. Often simple wins!
Being a Canadian means adapting your activities around the conditions; not giving up your activities because of them. Stay healthy, get outside and appreciate winter for what it is; a good opportunity to try something new.