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I'd like to hear what helps to get around when the roads are at their worst.

I'm looking to put together a beefier ride for this winter but I'm not sure where to even start.. I know I want a SS, freewheel, and big knobby tires with fenders. Beyond that - kinda clueless.

Should I look at mountain bike frames? Are there any good complete builds on the market?

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The only frames to consider are 29ers, cyclocross, or mountain bike because the allow for wider tires and rims. A cruiser would do as well. I sweat by the Nokian studded tires only because I ride 4 days out of 7 all winter and do not want to be surprised by ice under light snow or black ice that is nearly invisible. The studs do nothing for snow, the treads do that. Snow much deeper than 4 or 5 inches is troublesome for any tire. The studded tires are expensive, but if you buy a set be sure they are carbide steel tipped. Remember 4 days out of 5 are good for riding in the winter (not considering the wind or temperature). So its easy to avoid the truly bad days. BTW Nashbar has an excellent cyclocross frame (not fork) for $123. Just built one up and it rides great on Schwalbe 30mm cyclocross tires. Plenty of mountain bikes at the Police auction each month, on Craigslist, at Working Bikes, or at flea markets if you trust they are not stolen. And yes fenders really help. They avoid road salt being slung into your mouth. Also the lakeshore bike path is plowed and salted long before my street gets attention from Streets and Sanitation because the path is attended to by the Park District.
Im trying to build a winter bike from bikes the have been abandoned. I got a frame and the wheels will be easy to find.
I know this is beating a dead horse, but i agree with the sivart camp of take more of the lane and ride on regular slicks... But that's just my two cents. You should just build a bike that you are comfortable riding, allow more time getting to places, and at least clean and lube your bike often. The one part of my winter kit that has nothing to do with warmth is a shammy or rag to do a quick rub down to keep as much salt and shiate off the frame rims and drive train.

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