Wednesday, December 22, 2010

First Snow Report

I have been looking forward to testing my Bella Ciao ("Patricia") in winter conditions, and with the arrival of the season's first snow I finally got my chance. Before I go on, I will preface with the disclaimer / mini-announcement that I have begun collaborating with Bella Ciao on a special edition bicycle, which will be sold by Harris Cyclery in Spring 2011. I will have more details about that soon, but just wanted to make that affiliation known in the meantime.

Though I love the way my Bella Ciao "Corvo Citta" model handles, I don't ride it as often as I'd like, because I haven't yet installed a rack and lights. Now that winter has begun in earnest, that will be my next project - I just wanted to first make sure that I'd actually be able to ride this bicycle comfortably in snowy conditions. At just over 30lb, the Bella Ciao is considerably lighter than the likes of Gazelle and Pashley, and - justifiably or not - I am weary of lighter bikes when it comes to cycling in poor weather. To my relief, I had nothing to worry about and Patricia handled just fine after the first snowfall: She remained stable on slush, on slush mixed with salt, and on thin layers of packed snow.

As with other bikes I have ridden in such conditions, I switched to a lower gear and went slower than usual. The bicycle remained sturdy and cooperative. When braking in slush, I used the coaster brake only, which I find easier to modulate on slippery surfaces. The bike also did well cycling on the slippery stretch of brickwork that was part of my route. As far as safety goes, I feel comfortable using the Bella Ciao as a winter commuter in Boston and will get on with the lights/ rack installation so that I can use it more this winter.

While the brave Patricia performed admirably, my first snow commute of the season was not entirely stress-free. Driver behaviour was chaotic and there were few cyclists out on the roads. Several times, I got spooked by a car's ambiguous maneuvers and ended up cycling through a mess of wet snow by the curb. Based on last winter's experience, I know that things will get better once drivers get into their "winter mode". Meanwhile, perhaps there is a reason why most cyclists seem to have chosen to wait it out!

What I found fascinating about the Boston "bike scene" last winter and also noticed yesterday, is that often the only bikes on the streets seem to be those that are least suited for winter cycling - for instance, aggressive roadbikes with narrow tires and no fenders. Where are the fully equipped city bikes? Where are the rugged vintage 3-speeds?

It could be, that the aggressive roadcyclists are the ones most likely to brave these conditions, while, ironically, having the worst possible bikes for doing so. That's too bad, because winter is the time when features like fenders, stable handling, wide tires, internal gearing, and an upright sitting position, really make themselves felt. Last winter, I was extremely appreciative of the Pashley I used to own, and this winter it looks like I will do equally well on the Gazelle and Bella Ciao.

Though Patricia and I did not have many companions on our first snowy commute of the season, we hope that the winter wonderland will coax more cyclists outside soon. Once the drivers calm down, it is really not so bad: Just take it easy, dress warmly, ride a sturdy and properly equipped bicycle, and enjoy the beautiful landscape!

45 comments:

  1. Yesterday, my jalopy 3-speed served me very well. I even passed a few skinny-tired bikes that were slipping and sliding all over the road. :p

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  2. I have a perfect bike for those conditions, my Raleigh Sports, except that it still has steel rims and the usual bad old 3-speed brakes, even with KoolStop pads. No snowy rides for me! And yeah, I'm not taking my aggressive racing bike out, either.

    Though it's dry here, it's too cold to cycle with a little kid, and I can't leave mine home alone... So I'll read Lovely Bicycle! and enjoy your rides vicariously.

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  3. "I used the coaster brake only, which I find easier to modulate on slippery surfaces."

    Plus, if you do lock it up you only skid instead of going down.

    "I have begun collaborating with Bella Ciao on a special edition"

    Oh, my, you're an official collabo artiste curator now? Wait'll BSNYC hears about this.

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  4. kfg - This way I will at least be channeling my complaining-energy productively. It was either that or a column in Martha Stewart's new cycling mag.

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  5. Velouria, Are there any plans to start full marketing Bella Cioa in the US?

    Also, how do you deal with the road salt with your bikes? I have worked on cars from up north and they have been a nightmarish mass of rusted together chunks. What is the life expectancy of a bicycle in those conditions?

    Here it doesn't ever really get all that cold, but conversely, our summers are so brutal as to be completely inhibitive of riding.

    Martha Stewart Cycling Magazine? I suppose anything that brings bicycles more popularity is good, but it makes me feel like I need to wash my hands!

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  6. Yay to collaboration with Bella Ciao!!

    No snow yet here but it's freezing and drivers are agitated by each day's "gridlock alert." So many people drive in from the suburbs to shop and they really don't understand how to drive in a city. It's crazy out and I've been sticking to Williamsburg and avoiding Manhattan. I'm so lucky to be able to make my own schedule.

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  7. When I rode home from work during the storm the other night, I found drivers to be more careful and considerate than usual. However, that was during the storm, not after. I think they were so freaked out that they were playing it extra cautious. They knew they were going to be home late so just accepted it and relaxed. I dunno. I didn't notice any worse behavior since then than I would normally experience, but I definitely saw far fewer cyclists than normal, and share the same observation as you-- that the majority of cyclists out there were on totally inappropriate bikes! (Who wouldn't want fenders when you're kicking up slush and salt? YUCK!)

    I agree on using the rear brake only on icy/slippery conditions. It's much easier to fall when the front wheel slips sideways during a lockup than when the rear wheel slips.

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  8. Drivers seem to be in a frenzy at holiday time, no matter what the weather, so once January is here, things should calm down (I like to think). The added snow factor makes travel by bicycle extra special this time of year. It's crazy out there!

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  9. I know some people swear by skinny tires in snow because they slice through to the hard surface beneath, but the lack of fenders and sturdiness kind of puzzles me too. Maybe it is more about riding a beater that can be destroyed by salt without excessive grief on the part of the owner...

    Anyway, good on ya for riding in winter.

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  10. My drum-braked DL-1 served me well on a 42 mile round trip in the snow earlier today. I only saw a few others out, a few mountain bikes, one "comfort" bike and a racing bike. Due to the lack of cyclists I got the nod from them all too.

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  11. Martha Stewart's cycling mag? I'm going to be ill. Thank you for not making that choice.

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  12. Hey, I think a column in a new cycling magazine sounds top drawer to me! I have learned quite a bit about bicycles by reading your blog and am very appreciative.
    Bella Ciao has very nice lines. Is the color gray? Hard for me to tell. Will the collaboration Special Edition bike be a step through only?

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  13. Re: snarkypup: "Though it's dry here, it's too cold to cycle with a little kid, and I can't leave mine home alone."

    Do you have a trailer? My kid likes going out in the trailer even when it is raining and cold, though our "cold" here in Los Angeles may not be in the same league. But I imagine with enough bundling and good winter clothing, a kid could ride in the trailer at almost any temperature.

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  14. "kfg - This way I will at least be channeling my complaining-energy productively. It was either that or a column in Martha Stewart's new cycling mag. "

    -dabs at coffee spray on screen-

    Congratulations on your new design gig. I look forward to seeing the results.

    Here in The Shire we're getting lots of drippy rain, heavy at times, but the temps aren't very low during the day. (it is a temperate rain forest, after all.)

    It's sufficiently sloppy that rod-brakes are out of the question, so the be-fendered Stumpjumper is coming out of his long slumber. I'm dying to get on a bike.

    Corey K

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  15. Forrest Lee Causseaux - I am not a spokesperson for them in any way, but I *think* that they are negotiating about a general distribution, also with Harris Cyclery.

    The effect of salt on the Pashley I used to own was non-existant. I kept it indoors overnight, but otherwise rode it and kept it parked outside all winter - no effect. With the Bella Ciao, I cannot honestly say until March. The powdercoating is at least as durable as on the Pashley. The components (wheel rims, handlebars) are higher quality. The only comparative vulnerability is the gap at the back of the chaincase that exposes the chain.

    JimP - The colour of my bike is a light military green. But this will not be the colour of the new bike.

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  16. Do you have studded tires on that cute bike? I found that studs made all the difference last winter.

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  17. dweendaddy - I don't think there is enough packed snow in Boston to warrant studded bike tires. Last year I rode on standard Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, and they were fine.

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  18. Velouria said...
    "Driver behaviour was chaotic and there were few cyclists out on the roads. Several times, I got spooked by a car's ambiguous maneuvers and ended up cycling on the side of the road, through slush and wet snow."

    While not yet popular with most cyclist there is real value in wearing a Lime Green Safety Vest while riding. I've found that drivers give me a w-i-d-e safe distance when they pass by me when I wear my lime vest!!

    Without the lime green safety vest drivers often get way to close to me. Scary close in fact!! All i know is that with the vest on drivers see me and avoid me!!!!!!

    Now I'll be the first to admit that vest of this type are not high fashion in anyones book. However, there is a reason that folks who work on/near roadways wear them since there is a proven data that these vest save lives year 'round !

    Example one size fits all vest (the orange not so much. Yellow and lime work well)
    http://www.amazon.com/Boston-Industrial-Safety-Reflective-Strips/dp/B000IDSUS8

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  19. Okay, I have now received not one, but two emails asking for more info about the Martha Stewart Cycling Magazine : )) Am I that bad at making jokes?

    Walt - Although this is entirely a matter of personal taste and ideology, I am a firm believer in cycling in my regular clothing when using the bicycle as transportation. I do own a bright red coat that comes out on bleak days.

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  20. On the lime green vest idea, I know it's not exactly 'lovely bicycle' type gear, but for my winter cycling jacket, I wear a Hi-vis rain jacket, like the kind that crews working on the roads wear. I call winter the "season of the ugly coat" but I do feel a lot more visible and safer on the roads. The one disadvantage to the jacket is that I sometimes get mistaken for a member of the parking patrol.

    The last time I was in London, I noticed that most cyclists in that city wore them, or at least a reflective vest. It just seemed like a really good idea.

    My jacket is pretty much like this one.

    http://www.gemplers.com/product/122973/LaCrosse-Hi-vis-Rain-Jacket-Waterproof-Canvas




    FWIW- my bike of choice for the winter is my single speed from Van Dessel cycles. No, I don't have fenders and yes, it's super light compared to the Dutch style bikes preferred in this post. I just feel safer on this bike than I would on one with a coaster brake. I don't have super skinny tires on it (35mm I think). I think the safety thing is that this is the bike I've had the longest (nearly 10 years) and I'm just so used to it that it's like we're one being when I'm on it. Also, salt does a number on a bike and being a single speed, it's more robust. I don't fuss about not having fenders. If it's sloppy enough out that I'd need them, I'm probably wearing my rain pants(yes, rain pants. They're good for wet protection and extra wind protection).

    Yes, my winter gear is a totally anti-lovely bike aesthetic, but it's what works for me best. I've tried riding in a 'regular' long winter dress coat and I find it to be a miserable experience.

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  21. Anything that makes you guys/ladies feel comfortable is great. I speak solely for myself when I say that I believe in cycling in my regular clothing.

    As far as visibility goes, I think I am pretty hard to miss in this! I also turn my lights on during the day if it's overcast, raining, or snowing.

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  22. Just out of curiosity, doesn't the wind blow up your sleeves in that coat? That's one of things I've hated about riding in a 'regular' long winter coat, the wind up my sleeves. And down my neck despite whatever scarf I try. And between the buttons up the front. Like I said, I've tried riding in a dress coat but I find it a miserable prospect compared to my high vis jacket with a fleece layer. Much colder, much windier.

    It's funny when you say 'regular' clothes, because I always think of my high-vis jacket as my 'regular' winter jacket. The dress coat is my 'special' coat, the one I only get out on days when I'm not cycling (i.e. a couple of times a month).

    If I'm walking into a place where I'd really rather not be seen walking in wearing an ugly high-vis jacket, I do strip it off before going in and shove it into my pannier, then walk in only in the fleece that I wear as an inner layer. Same if I'm wearing my rain pants. I'm wearing 'regular' clothes underneath, usually a dress and tights.

    Also, yes, red is pretty visible in the day time, but not really any more visible than most colors at night. One of the things about winter riding is that I find myself riding in the dark a lot more. It's dark when I leave for work at 5:30AM. Dark when I'm biking home at 4:30PM. I want whatever visibility advantage I can reasonably have. I know you're into wearing only 'regular' clothes, but something like the lime green vest confers a great visibility advantage and can easily be taken off as soon as you reach your destination and tucked into a corner of the pannier. They don't take up a lot of room. I have a vest that I wear for cycling in the dark in summer time.

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  23. Velouria said...
    "As far as visibility goes, I think I am pretty hard to miss in this! I also turn my lights on during the day if it's overcast, raining, or snowing."

    With all due respect....
    Your red coat does NOT have the same visual impact that a lime green vest will. No way , no how!

    Any natural color , which red is, will NOT get the notice that an "un-natrual" color (which lime green is) in the field of view for any driver.

    It's clear to any long time reader of you blog that you are first and foremost a lady and you want to dress like a proper lady at all times. I can both appreciate that and applause it since so many gals today dress like slobs. :(

    That said, there are times that demand a slight wardrobe adaptation which is all a lime green vest is. EVERY cyclist has the duty to make themselves as visible as possible which IMO where the vest makes an easy accommodation of that visibility need. With a simple vest you can wear it while you ride only removing it when you take photos or park your bike. What's not to like?????

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  24. Peppy (the long paw of the law cat)December 22, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    I know, right, I keep saying that we should all be putting them on as soon as we get out of the shower. And you can really use it on the T where I swear some people act like you're invisible.

    Maybe we can get ones that say P O L I C E in block letters across the back and add the word FASHION in smaller print up above.

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  25. Walt D - I specifically do not want to start this line of argument on my website. My readers can wear what they like and I have my own reasons for wearing what I wear. I will leave it at that, but if anybody is interested in a debate on the topic, my friend over at Portlandize offers the opportunity here.

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  26. Rosecampion, the trick for me is to layer over my normal clothing, woolen leggings over tights over my normal dress or skirt and always, always wear a windproof jacket underneath. A lightweight packable one does ok or one can buy some good, windproof jackets that don't look like bike wear. That stops most of the bone-numbing chill I find.

    And I try to keep the hi-vis on the bike, rather than on me. It's true though, London commuters mostly all wear it.

    Velouria, loving the Bianchi. Well, all of your bikes.

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  27. Rose - Good point about the coat sleeves! I tuck the sleeves of the shirt/sweater I am wearing underneath into my gloves, and that's usually fine. For really freezing days, I also have a down parka where the sleeves are elasticized at the wrists.

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  28. I don't think there is enough packed snow in Boston to warrant studded bike tires. Last year I rode on standard Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, and they were fine.

    I agree completely when it comes to cycling on roadways, but I think that for commuters who bike regularly on bike paths, packed snow and ice patches are real concerns. Since I rarely, if ever, have to ride on bike paths, I don't have a real need for studded tires.

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  29. "Am I that bad at making jokes?"

    You've had me giggling all day just thinking about the concept.

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  30. somervillain - I agree, but I don't find it feasible to use Boston's (separated) bike paths in the winter, since half of my transportation cycling takes place after dark, and these paths are not lit. I am just not brave enough to cycle on unplowed or poorly plowed, iced-over paths in the pitch dark, even with really good lights on my bike.

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  31. Some of us can only afford to own one bicycle and the weather doesn't change that.

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  32. Portlandize said.....
    "Safety is a very complicated issue, and each person's situation requires a different treatment, as each person has different circumstances, but I think in general we would do well to think about which battles we ought to be fighting (battles to get people to use more and more safety equipment, or battles to make our roads safer), and what measures are really reasonable to protect ourselves in the meantime."

    Until American roads become safe for the cyclist as they are in Europe where bicycles are all to common one must do something to protect ones life.....no?

    It's true that any/all safety extremes will not assure ones safety but how does one know unless they try?

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  33. Walt - There is a line of reasoning, whereby dehumanising oneself with uniform-like technical apparel and safety equipment will only prolong the unfriendly road conditions you describe. I subscribe to that line of reasoning. Beyond that, as I have already written, I do not want to discuss this here - please respect that. Who-ever is interested can have this discussion on Portlandize and the dozen other websites debating these issues.

    Anon 8:51 - Very true. In which case it especially makes sense to get a bicycle that would be functional in all weather conditions.

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  34. The only roads in Europe that I know of that are less dangerous for cyclists than American roads are the French and Italian; where (accept in certain urban areas, just like in America) bicycles aren't all that numerous, there are essentially no "facilities" and the drivers are batshit insane.

    (I didn't mention clothing once; Oh, shit)

    "In which case it especially makes sense to get a bicycle that would be functional in all weather conditions."

    I'll switch sides a bit from my usual here and point out that for 30 years I rode in all weather, on and off road, going to work, going shopping, going to the district road championships, all on the same bike. It could get a bit expensive (negating the original premise a bit), but was always functional.

    Unlike my racing bike Graham was designed to be the only bike you'll ever need for anything but racing; and it is, although there may be perfectly valid reasons for having a city bike as well.

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  35. Velouria, that photo of you biking in your red coat pretty much closes the deal on our Mary Poppins discussion.

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  36. do you have alloy rims on patricia? not trusting my steel rims to stop in the slush (really do miss my coaster brakes). i attempted to ride last weekend and found my shoes slipping off the pedals because of the slush. it made me nervous so i decided to stop. my platform rubber pedals didn't seem as grippy as my metal teeth only pedals on my old bike.

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  37. just realized you have a sponsor link where i found all the specs on your bike. i'm even more envious now!

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  38. Ridonkulus - As you probably saw already, the rims are alloy. They are custom made for Bella Ciao and are high polished to such an extent, that when the bicycle arrived and the Co-Habitant saw it, he was convinced they were steel. I had to show him the specs on line to make him change his mind. It's a good bike, with a number of unexpected details like that.

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  39. Hi, those ill equipped road bikes you see are probably ridden by young people in their late teens/early 20's. That bianchi is going to get so gunked up! I say this because when I was younger I certainly did not have fenders or ANYTHING remotely useful on my bikes other than lights. I used to ride around with muck up my back, my face, all over and didn't think anything of it.
    Someone commented on only being able to afford one bike. It's really useful to have a winter/scrappy bike. You can get really cheap bikes for winter-even a mainstream bike shaped object would do, but I was given a late vintage road bike, I got an old lovely raleigh for $50, a vintage bike for $80. Bikes already equipped with fenders, internal hub etc are out there for about $100ish. My problem is I love my vintage bikes too much to turn into winter bikes as none of them have internal hubs....so have my eye on a batavus 3 speed. my main ride is already gunked up, the derailleurs area mess...so I would LOVE an internal hub and chaincased bike.
    And I agree, drivers need to get used to cyclists, so we shouldn't have to wear technical gear and visi vests. Drivers SHOULD be paying close attention to everything and everyone-otherwise they are not being good drivers.
    luckily my winter is just rain, but snow would certainly be beautiful!
    congrats on your collaboration!
    Heather

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  40. Yes. Drivers should be paying close enough attention that we don't need to wear the technical gear, otherwise they are not good drivers. The problem is that in reality, there are many bad drivers out there.

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  41. rosecampion said...
    "Yes. Drivers should be paying close enough attention that we don't need to wear the technical gear, otherwise they are not good drivers. The problem is that in reality, there are many bad drivers out there."

    Indeed..........

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  42. Velouria,

    I contacted Bella Ciao directly and got confirmation that they will be working through Harris Cyclery in the Spring of 2011. Furthermore, if that has a positive outcome, they will be "taking it step by step from there".
    I may yet get my Corva Citta Uomo in verde giardini!

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  43. I ride a 20" Pashley and was thinking about getting studded tires for her this winter but when I went to my LBS they informed me that Schwalbe doesn't make them in my tire size (which I told is slightly larger than a standard 26") That was the first I'd heard of the tire being bigger than 26" which is what it says on Pashley's site under the P Sovereign's specs. Does anyone else with a 20" Princess Sovereign know if what the mechanic told me is true?

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  44. As RANTWICK mentioned, there are some (myself included) who prefer skinnier tires in the snow because they ride closer to the pavement and float less. However, when looking at the tires on your bike, perhaps what I call skinny and you call wide are close the same size. My ideal city snow tire is a 700x32 cyclocross tire, is that the size of your Marathon Plus tires?

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  45. I posted a comment at 7.21pm on 22 December, which was unfortunately listed as anonymous. I don't like hiding behind that veil, so I'm claiming my comment.

    Well done for limiting the discussion on Hi-vis. We wear what we feel comfortable in and respect other riders for their choices. We do what works for us.

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