Sunday 21 September 2014

Project: SubZero

The Project

I wanted to try my hand at winter biking.  It seemed like a poor investment to buy an expensive bike just to see if I liked biking in the winter.  So instead I opted for something that was cheaper to try out.  If I'm really into it, I can invest in a better ride at a later date.

So I established Project: SubZero, my winter biking project.  Something that was within a small budget that I could taste the on-road and off-road conditions that Canadian winters offered.  I started shopping for a bike using the criteria below.
  • Cheap. Both for the initial price and how much I would have to invest in repairs and upgrades.
  • Resist Corrosion. Winter here means lots of snow and ice and salt. I figured something with an aluminum frame would be a good start.
  • Winter Features. Winter tires, fenders, disc brakes. Any features that would make it appealing for winter usage. Anything it was lacking, I would need to add.
  • Off-Road. With low visibility and icy conditions, some of the safest driving will be in the countryside. Literally. And if things don't work out with winter cycling, I'd have something I could take off road in warmer seasons.

The Bike

Project SubZero, pre-upgrades.
I found a 2010 Norco Scrambler that met with a lot of my criteria.  You can see some of its stats at Norco's web site.  It was cheap, it had an aluminum frame and it had disc brakes.  The tires were pretty knobby; not ideal for ice but could be fun for snowy conditions and open fields.

First thing to go was the handlebars, it had risers that someone had cut short.  This was replaced with a used riser that was full length.  The disc brakes were fixed up and the derailleurs were cleaned and tuned.

So after a bit of a refresh, it is in great operating condition.  Took it for a quick spin around the block and amused my wife while trying to drive in and out of ditches.  It is definitely fun to ride!  I'm not sure I'll wait until winter to start riding around on it.

Bike Upgrades

Now that the bike is in running condition, its time to prepare it for Project SubZero.

  • Fenders: Some mud guard style mountain bike fenders.  Front ones attached to the fork and a rear one coming off the seat post.  This should help with the snow and slush issues.
  • Lights: Canadian winters mean reduced daylight.  So it's very important that you can be seen by drivers.  I will probably move my existing lights onto this bike for the season.  I'm also thinking about doing my own setup using high intensity LED strips.  It may end up making me look like a gaudy UFO, but that still looks much better than the view from under a car.
  • Tires: I've been thinking about this one.  The existing knobby tires seem like they'd be fun to run through snow.  But with some studded tires, I could ride on the road during freezing rain or packed ice.  I'm still thinking about it as studded tires don't fit in with doing it on the cheap (they sell locally for ~$100 each).  But it would be pretty awesome to go riding on some frozen rivers!

I'm still kicking a few ideas around.  Like switching to a flat bar and adding in bar ends.  But it might be better to stick to the riser and just go with pogies.  Decisions, decisions...


  1. I've been hearing that this winter is going to be a nasty winter. I'm just going to deal with it day by day. I was thinking of getting the pogies for the grips but I might just go with nice insulated gloves, I've even looked at the heated ones, a little pricey but it might make the ride that much better. I haven't found sub $100 pogies yet and if I did, the quality would be reduced to the point of uselessness.

    Are the disk breaks cable or hydrolic? I still have to convert to cable based breaking..

    Also, think about your route.. Don't expect bike paths to be packed down.. You will be driving on road shoulders.

    I've also seen people take old tires and insulate there cable gears wires, etc. If you can keep the snow off them, the better..

    1. As I understand it, day by day is how they recommend us winter newbies tackle things. Makes sense, we've got to learn what's best & what we're comfortable with.

      For the pogies, I haven't found anything good yet. MEC has a cheap pair but the reviews for it are lousy.

      This bike has cable disc brakes. Works for me as I haven't a clue about hydraulics.

      Heh, where I live you can expect the bike paths to be packed down instantly by an army of ATV's and snowmobiles. The downside is there's lots of possibilities of collision so just as important to look like a gaudy UFO. For any on-road I will be sticking to residential streets (avoiding county roads and highways). Anything else will just be trails or open fields.

      Thanks for the head's up on the cables! This bike has some pretty simple cable routing so I might be able to just 3d design and 3d print some covers.

    2. Thinking about going the more DIY route on the pogies. There's some great advice out there if you know how to sew.

      Some were using old coats. I might try it out if I can find a coat I want to part with.

  2. If you find the a good DIY for pogies, share it ;)