DIY Snow Tires

Commuter, Mountain Bike 22 351

zip-tie-snow-tiresHere in Greenville, SC, significant snowfall is a fairly rare occurrence. The 6 to 8 inches that fell on Monday morning may not sound like much to many of you, but here in the southeast it was sufficient to shut down the city for most of the week. For me, it was a great opportunity to break out the sled and play in the snow with my kids.

The snow also gave me the opportunity to try out the DIY zip tie snow tires that I had seen on the Dutch Bike Co blog. The 8-inch zip ties that I had in my garage were not quite long enough to close around the fat tires on my singlespeed 29er, so I ended up using two ties per section. The advantage of that was that that each section had 2 tie heads at the edge of the tread to dig into the ice, and that is exactly what they did.

I have to say, I was pretty surprised at how well this set-up really worked. I rode quite a bit on Monday, on roads and trails, and the zip-tie snow chains on my rear wheel really bit in to give me traction. Later in the week, as the snow melted and refroze, the DIY chains continued to grip, even on icy climbs that had been smoothed over by sleds and toboggans.

Of course, this would work best on a bike with disc brakes. To make it work with v-brakes, I disconnected the rear brake (zip-tied the straddle cable to the frame to keep it out of the way) and only applied the zip ties to the rear wheel. Chain stay and/or fender clearance are factors to consider as well, but this idea should be workable on most any bike out there. If you have snow and ice on the ground, and you don’t already have studded tires on your bike, consider giving this a try. If you do, let me know how it works for you.


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22 Comments

  1. Jeff January 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm -  Reply

    For those in more moderate climates, the zip strip snow chain is a good quick remedy. If you’re used to seeing more snow through the winter, ice mixed in and don’t want to spring for pre-fab studded tires, the solution I’ve used for a very long time – short sheet metal screws and a duct tape “liner” to prevent the screws from backing out/pushing into the tube…works better than anything else for true winter grip and ride.

    It’s a time consuming process, but well worth it and great use for some of the old MTB tires you have sitting around. Then again, not as many people enjoy biking around for hours in 0-15 F weather as I do, but for those who do, it’s the only way to ride.

  2. Scott January 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm -  Reply

    what about breaks?

  3. Scott January 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm -  Reply

    ok, i def need to read these posts before commenting, and learn to spell

  4. Miguel January 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm -  Reply

    What a great idea Jeff!! I’m living in the north of Sweden and I need mi bike every day to go to work. Winter tires can be more than helpfull but they are expensive as hell, I think I’ll try your way. But I have a question though: Don’t the tires rip and break sometimes where the screws are?

  5. Jed January 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm -  Reply

    From my reading on bicycleforums.net, I’d gotten the impression that losing traction on your front tire is way more dangerous than losing traction on your rear tire. I’d more likely consider putting zippies on my front tire and then going low-pressure on my rear tire, which would also give me my rear brake back. Personally, I invested in some Schwalbe Marathon Winters and I only put them on for a few days a season, but when I’m carrying kids around, I don’t want a half-assed solution.

    • James T January 14, 2011 at 11:02 am -  Reply

      It is definitely true that losing front tire traction is much more likely to cause a wreck. I needed the traction on the rear tire though to make it up the hills. I just had to ride carefully to avoid the front wheel from sliding out.

  6. Mr, January 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm -  Reply

    … flat tires?

  7. Ross Nicholson January 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm -  Reply

    Deflating your tires a little bit temporarily can get you up a hill. Maybe, if you deflated your tires, front and back, and took them off, you could wrap a bunch of single zip ties around the deflated tire/tube and then put the tire wrapped with zip-ties back on the rim and re-inflate it. You might have to sand down the zip ties in places to get it back on the rim. If this works, you would then have your wrap on studs on both front and back tires and both your V brakes would still work. You wouldn’t even have to take the tire all the way off.

    • Mick January 14, 2011 at 11:22 am -  Reply

      Not a chance that would work. The ties would completely prevent the bead from seating into the rim (even if you sanded them down…which would also dramatically decrease the strength of the tie).

  8. Amoeba January 14, 2011 at 2:41 am -  Reply

    There is an instructable, there may be more than one: Pop
    Rivet Ice Tires for Your Road Bike These should work with rim
    brakes. And you can put on as many rivets on as you wish. The zip
    tie method is potentially vulnerable to sideways slippage. Note: I
    haven’t tried either method, but I’m considering the pop rivet
    version.

    • James T January 14, 2011 at 10:59 am -  Reply

      I like the pop rivet idea. That seems like a better solution than screws, which could back out and cause a puncture, even with a duct tape liner inside the tire.

      Since I live in an area with only occasional snow, the quick zip tie solution works for me. If I lived in a colder climate though, I would definitely try the pop rivet idea (and I still might next time it snows here).

  9. nicolas January 14, 2011 at 5:09 am -  Reply

    Yeah, riding on ice, I would probably have prioritised equipping the front wheel rather than the back one. I slipped on a patch of black ice 2 years ago and threw my back for like a week, because I was stupid with my cargo (put a ton of shopping bags around my handlebars… yeah I’m not that smart) and put my foot down crooked and too hard. You have less control over your front wheel slipping out from under you. Don’t think the back wheel is an issue that deflating the tire can’t solve.
    Also: this works with drum brakes too. I gotta get me some zip ties, the bike lanes aren’t ever cleared out when it snows in Paris.

    • James T January 14, 2011 at 10:54 am -  Reply

      True, it would have been better to have the zip ties on both tires for handling, but I needed them on the rear wheel for traction on the icy hills. I definitely could not have ridden up hills like this one without the zip ties on the drive wheel.

      Knowing that the front could slip out made me ride carefully, but I couldn’t really have chosen that wheel over the rear one.

  10. Richard Masoner January 18, 2011 at 5:53 pm -  Reply

    James, did you compare against riding with no zip ties? Your tires look knobby enough that they probably do just fine for most snow.

    I lived and biked in snow country for about a decade, and much of that riding was done with skinny road slicks. Knobbies on a mountain bike was a big improvement from that. Studded tires were a big help on hard glare ice, but I’m not so sure the handling improvement was that dramatic on slush and snow.

    Finally, as other suggest: front tire!

    • James T January 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm -  Reply

      Richard, I have ridden that bike in the snow with no zip ties, and you are right….the wide knobby tires do pretty well in the snow. I think the most dramatic improvement with the zip ties was on the ice after the snow melted and refroze. Some of the hills near my house were very slippery and difficult to walk up (like the sledding hill I linked to in the comment above), but I was able to ride up them without the rear wheel spinning out at all. I know from riding the same roads after snow or ice storms that is not always the case (in fact, I went down hard on one of those same hills in the ice last year). I would have much preferred to do both wheels, but I need to keep one brake connected so I opted for the drive wheel to maintain traction on the climbs. I probably should have been clearer in stating that this set-up required extra care on the ice to keep the front wheel from sliding out. The bike cornered great in the snow (as it probably would have without the zip ties) but on the ice I was definitely cautious. Still, I am convinced that I couldn’t have climbed some of those icy hills without the zip ties. It may not be a good as a set of real studded tires, but it did seem to help.

  11. Patrick January 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm -  Reply

    This is a great post. Love your blog, keep up the great work.

  12. Andraž January 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm -  Reply

    Few days ago I took my BMX to cross-country ski trail to keep my girlfriend company. I have old slippery tyres on it (no knobs) but the main issue was sinking into the snow. Consequently the resistance of snow was to great and rear wheel lost traction…

    When I deflated both tyres to almost flat (0,5-1 BAR) it went smoothly even of-trail or across the icy patches. Tyres did not sink anymore and I was faster than all skiers, it was sooo much fun that next time I am bringing a toy rifle to this bike biathlon… Then girlfriend got frustrated and we went home.

    The worst situation in the city is thin layer of snow, the tire grips the snow OK, but the ground does not keep the snow in place. Either snow moves and lubricates ground or top layer skids on wet/frozen layer below. I usually use my road bike for such occasions. Its thin tyres penetrate the snow and stick rather firmly to the solid ground below. It works surprisingly well.

    But once I was out with BMX when it started to snow heavily… I was hilarious, people must have thought I was a drunk being unable to change direction without falling.

    I will give some home made solutions mentioned above a try next winter.

  13. Andraž January 24, 2011 at 6:04 pm -  Reply

    Oh, and the zip tie solution is ingenious!

  14. Tinker January 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm -  Reply

    So why disc brakes? I have a roller brake front with a coaster brake rear, and this seems to be just about perfect for the rare (every few years) snow/ice days. All you need is a completely non-rim brake set up. (A very versatile brake system for variable width tires, in fact.)

  15. zody August 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm -  Reply

    I’m dubious of this zip tie for traction idea. I’ve commuted by bike in Minnesota for 15 years, and I don’t think that zip ties would help. If anything, they would be a hindrance if it means that you lose brake control at your rear wheel, which is the brake to use in slick conditions. When riding on snow and ice, you do fall over from time to time. This usually is a result of losing traction sideways on the front wheel. It seems to me that these zip ties would give a bit of bite fore and aft, but not really do much side to side??

    Studded tires do make a big difference in traction, but they are expensive. This zip tie idea seems intended for an emergency “stuck in a snowstorm” type situation. My recommendation, if that happens, rather than spend half an hour installing zip ties would be:

    -Lower your saddle a smidge so you can get a foot down if need be.
    -Ride a bit more slowly than usual.
    -Stay off the front brake.
    -Avoid leaning into turns.

  16. NoNeedForAName December 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm -  Reply

    *chuckle*

    I love how some many of this peanut gallery have disparaging remarks/outright dismissed this hack without even trying it.

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