The evolution of winter traction:
That’s right, baling twine. Why? Because is was available and plentiful. My brother and I used this on our coaster-brake equipped BMX bikes to gain traction in packed and powder snow. My knowledge of this technique was handed down by my dad, who also used baling twine traction as a kid. Using baling twine for traction is very simple-just wrap the twine around the tire, lacing it through the spokes every 3 inches or so. Effectiveness? Well, pretty darn good, considering the low effort needed to install. Instead of spinning down into a puddle of slush, the tire would churn through the snow and let me get up to speeds of 5, maybe 8mph. This winter ritual ended quickly after upgrading to a Murray mountain bike with caliper rim brakes.
With disc brakes now common on most mountain bikes, this method is once again feasible for many. Check out this DIY tire chain setup.
This method is an adaptation from dirt bike experience, and also handed down by my dad. I remember admiring his Husqavarna’s winter tire, which had at least 300 sheetmetal screws distributed heavily across all of the tire’s lugs. That tire could rip apart ice like is was soft sand.
A few years later, I was inspired to ride through the winter up in Houghton, MI. I spent an evening carefully driving small sheetmetal screws from the inside-out of my front tire (a Panaracer Dart, IIRC). A second tube, carefully duct-taped into place, protected the tube from the screw heads. The result was pretty impressive; a knobby tire with 1/2″ of threaded screw sticking out of every lug.
This tire worked great for the loosely packed snow on the campus roads. The screws quickly wore down, but still had a lot of bite even when flush with the rubber. My best memory of that setup? The loud helicopter-like FFZZZZVVVVZZZZ sound that tire made on bare concrete–that got more than a few pedestrians to get outta my way!
Carbide studded tires
A.k.a. the “right way” to do this. I first ran a Nokian studded front tire last winter on my fuji POS. It worked amazingly well for keeping my bike upright through the slippery stuff. This year, I’m rockin’ a pair of Schwalbe Snow Studded carbide tires on my Cannondale H400. Amazing stuff, I tell ya. I now have the traction I need to keep spinnin’ this winter. If ony I could maintain the momentum to get on the bike each day…