There is a sort of general confusion among off-road cyclists about riding in mud and snow, and this is easily deducible from the choice of tires used. In fact, many people look for tires with a very large section to tackle the mud, while the aim would be essentially the opposite: narrower tires to cut through the mud. It is no coincidence that the mud bikes par excellence are cyclocross – and not mtb bikes – with 33 mm tires.
And what about riding in the snow?
Things become complex due to the different types of snow. And if the snow bike par excellence remains the fat bike, able to float on fresh snow, this is not the best choice on a beaten path or frozen snow, least of all in snow mixed with mud.
Riving in the snow requires great balance, but not so much to make up for the poor grip as you might think, but rather to follow the beaten, narrow line. For example, if we tackle a snow-covered gravel road where off-road vehicles rode on, we will have the inside and outside of the roadway with soft snow and we have to follow the groove of the wheels of the vehicles. The risk is that as soon as you touch the soft snow from the sides you end up stopping abruptly or even rolling over.
Cyclocross Race in the snow
Compressed snow offers excellent smoothness and absolutely does not require wider tires than usual. When you face cyclocross races you often get a beaten path where you ride quickly and where perhaps most of the effort comes from the very high concentration that you must have to follow the track faithfully. Speed is however high and it is very difficult to overtake. To overcome another rider you have to wait for a straight with several beaten tracks or with a beaten underground underneath a layer of fresh snow. In this case, the handling is very similar to a muddy area, with the bike that partly floats and partly cuts through the fresh snow. And even here an excessively wide tire can sometimes be a help when floating, but in others a negative factor, as it tends to float even where a narrow tire could plough into the snow and maintain better driveability.
Tire tessellations can also give different performances depending on the type of snow. In fact, on fresh snow, it would be advisable to have a mud-style tire, with high but distant tassells, able to then unload the snow that gets entangled between the tassel. On frozen snow, however, the only solution remains studded tires, which are however prohibited in the race. And since it is not possible to use studded tires, the tessellation often assumes little importance, because where the grip is almost zero, it is better a tire with a denser tessellation, where grip is recovered by playing with low inflation pressure.