Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Snow Daze

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Considering how much the stuff limits my winter cycling, my enthusiasm for this year's first real snowfall is a little perplexing. What exactly am I so excited about? Is it the lack of traction around bends on the unsalted roads? Is it the poor visibility? Or is it the overall fact that my two-wheeled travel radius has just decreased by a factor of god-knows-how-much until further notice? Oh the moaning I've done about snow in years past once its presence was no longer a novelty! Has my memory been wiped clean?

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And as I look at the endless expanse of white that used to be a field with a lane going through it, I am convinced that is exactly what happens. Snow arrives and wipes everything out, including common sense. "You've been rushing about too much, thinking too hard," it whispers. "There, I fixed it for you! Look how pretty and fluffy I am, aren't you happy just being around me?" And indeed we are. Even as it causes disruptions in services and wreaks chaos on roads, we grin and hop about like children in the presence of its magical sparkle.

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Some of us also venture out on bicycles!

Studded tires? Nope. Roads been salted yet? No sir. Superior handling skills? Don't make me laugh! But what the heck, let's just go and see what happens. Who can resist the call of the siren?

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The thing I remember straight away about cycling on snow, once I start doing it, is that it's actually not so bad - as long as there is no ice. The sensation is similar to cycling through not-too-thick mud, and also to cycling through shallow sand. In fact, if you can imagine adding some sand to some watery mud, it's kind of like that. What happens to me on all of these surfaces, is that the bike starts weaving - either fishtailing, or its scarier opposite, "fish-heading." Now, that might seem scary at first. But the secret here, I've found, is simply to let it weave a bit without tensing up or touching the brakes - rather than tightening up on the steering, or worse, attempting to stop mid-weave. Counter-steering a bit also works. And then, before I know it, either the weaving disappears, or else I just get used to it and stop noticing. Either way, it seems I can happily plod along a snow-covered lane without incident, traveling to such distant and exotic places as the shop a mile down the road, or to visit friends a bit further on.

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"Yes, there is cake and carrots in there. Which are you after?"

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I am sure it won't be long before I am moaning and groaning about the weather cramping my style again. But for now I am on a high from actually managing to ride my bike, even a little bit, in these conditions. The bicycle, exhausted and proud, is now dripping in the front porch and I am thawing off by the fire with a ridiculous look on my face. It's a snow daze!

28 comments:

  1. I, too, have found letting the steering weave a bit helps. I also find that I use the mountain biking trick of "picking my line" and only looking at where I want the bike to go and not what I'm hoping to avoid. Nonetheless, I have bought studded tires for this winter, but then again, I live in Canada. Hoping your winter riding season extends far and long.

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  2. I once cycled from Braemar to Aberdeen at -1degC with a friend just after Hogmanay (New Year) stopping to lunch and dinner only at pubs with a fire - my friend melted one of her waterproof socks on a mantlepiece of one. At one point we had to stop every 10 miles to shake the snow from our bikes. It's one of my favourite memories of cycling, empty roads and just enough wind to throw the soft silent snow in your face. Wrap up warm and take it easy, I say, you're missing something if you don't.

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    1. "Wrap up warm and take it easy, I say, you're missing something if you don't."

      Well said.

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  3. Are you using cleats in the winter? I can't decide whether to continue using them or go to a flat pedal-- my concern is that I'll go into a skid and not be able to get my shoe released in time. So far, that hasn't yet happened, but there's always a first time!

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    1. On the roadbikes I do, just like in summer. I am not worried about the unclipping thing. Experience has shown me that I will "magically" unclip my shoes in emergency or unexpected situations. Not sure how it happens, but must be a reflex!

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    2. Somewhat counterintuitively, staying clipped in during those instant-sideways wipeouts where both wheels slide out from underneath you on ice seems to promote reasonably "safe" falling. Instead of a sometimes violent and sometimes unsuccessful twisting of the ankles and knees to get unclipped, "going down with the ship" and sliding from knee/thigh to hip to shoulder as the bike goes down seems to protect the knees and wrists from common fall-type injuries. Kind of like skateboarding, I guess it helps to consider the inevitable falls as part and parcel of the ride.

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    3. So does this mean, with this bike, you wear full bicycle clothing as opposed to street clothes while riding? I mean if you're wearing cleats, do you also wear some sort of cycling specific outfit, even if you're merely plodding to the shop a mile down the road? My pedals allow an option and during snowy conditions I opt for the platform so boots can be worn in case there's a need to walk it through certain stretches. So, I'm also in regular street clothes (with wool long johns underneath)…It seems much easier.

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    4. Well, I wouldn't normally ride this bike (or any clipless roadbike) just to the shop a mile down the road. Today was a sort of snow day exception, just because it seemed like a cool bike to try in these conditions. On this particular ride I wore clipless shoes, paired with non-cycling specific but "outdoorsy" wool clothes, which I then continued to wear off the bike to walk around in the snow taking photos the rest of the morning, changing from bike shoes to hiking boots.

      But if you're asking more generally: I do not always wear roadcycling clothes just because I'm wearing clipless shoes. My clipless shoes (Mavic CycloTours) just look like black gym shoes really, so they don't come across as out of place with "regular" clothing. They are also very comfortable, breathable, and the cleats are set in a way that makes them okay to walk in when off the bike. I will often wear them paired with everyday clothes when I feel like riding one of my roadbikes for errands or commuting.

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    5. I was clipped in for a 3 inch snowstorm. The experience convinced me to get spiked tires for my mountain bike. If you skid/fall it won't matter if you're clipped, really.

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    6. Oh yes it can. Not on snow but on ice.

      2y ago I did a long ride on the snow with my cross bike. When I decided I had enough I tried to reach a (salted) road but didn't realise there was a huge ice patch just between the end of the trail and the road. I was on the ground before I realised it with a broken angle and in the middle of nowhere. I truly think my foot would have slipped in the fall and I could have somehow avoided putting all my weight on my ankle.

      This winter I'm running studded tires on my cross bike with half flat / half time attac clipless pedals so I can ride flat if I sense a risk of ice.

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  4. When I lived in Norway I rode to school every day through the Norwegian winter. The traction was great because they pack the snow rather than plow it, so it creates a nice firm surface. The temperatures also helped since it always hovered just slightly below freezing - never getting warm enough for it to melt and form ice, but never getting terribly cold either.

    Here in Colorado, on the other hand, winter cycling is much more frightening - especially when we have a prolonged period of snow with up & down temps. You end up with ice packed streets with deep ruts in the ice, and once those ruts get covered with fresh snow... look out! Even after the warm up comes, the shady areas remain ice packed for weeks.

    Translation, I haven't been for a "real" ride in 3 weeks and I'm going stir crazy!!!

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    1. Many of the Boulder multi-use paths were kept plowed through the worst of it. I actually drove into town and rode them several times between Christmas and New Years. Only the street crossings were a slushy mess. It was cold, though, so I typically had to quit after two hours. My 'cross bike gets re-purposed for winter with the addition of studded tires. I'm running a 45NRTH Gravdahl on the front and a Schwalbe Marathon Winter on the rear. But last weekend most folks I saw were running ordinary tires 'cause the main roads had melted off. I still need studs to get off my block, though.

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    2. Love the feel of walking and cycling on hard-packed snow.

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  5. I am such a kid when it comes to snow! I get all giddy at just the mention of it and as soon as it's on the ground I'm out there playing in it. Last year we got a surprise snow storm while I was at work. I had ridden my road bike that day. I was really surprised at how easy it was to ride home! There is one big hill I had to walk up because I simply just could not get enough traction, but skinny tires and clip less shoes worked out just fine! I can hardly wait until we get out first snowfall.

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  6. Not having ever lived where it snowed, except for a rare light dusting that's melted away by noon, it looks and even sounds "romantic" to bike around on snowy roads. Although I think I'll stick to my "fantasy", then deal with the "reality". I'm not a fan of cold.

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  7. Here in Minnesota we have plenty of snow, ice, salt and cold temperatures. We continue doing our shopping and commuting by bike although a bit slower on our aluminum framed (good with salt) winter bikes. Our bikes are equipped with aggressive studded snow tires. These tires allow us to ride where we can't walk. We are seeing more riders this year enjoying winter biking.

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    1. " These tires allow us to ride where we can't walk..."

      Even without studded tires, I had this experience recently. On a freezing, icy day just before the new year my companion and I were cycling along the main road, which had been generously salted. We then turned onto a less traveled road, which from a distance looked fine, so we assumed it had been salted as well. We cycled along that for a good few minutes, chatting, before we realised we were riding on pure sheet ice. So gingerly we came to a stop to turn a round (U-turn seems unadvisable) and when I tried to get off my bike, to take a photo of the whole thing, the road was so slippery I had to use the bike for support even to stand up, and I certainly could not walk. And yet, once I managed to get back on the bike, I was then able to push off, and carefully cycle back to the main road. Crazy!

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  8. I love snow but live in the PNW where it rarely does, at least at sea level, but I used to winter bike in the canadian prairie and I loved it. It required a certain skills, never bothered with studded tires. I rarely get to bike in the snow here, although there are steep hills which make it more risky.

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  9. Fishheading is such a good word. Looking out on a "light dusting" this morning in Boston I am wondering if I am brave enough to experience a bit of it.

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  10. Were you just lucky in timing with no salt on the roads or does the UK not salt its roads?

    While I am sure the car drivers would disagree, I would happily put up with the occasional icy patch to be rid of the bane that is road salt forever.

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    1. There's the UK, and then there's Northern Ireland. In many ways, this place sort of gets the shaft, if you pardon the crudeness.

      Personally I don't mind the salt, and certainly prefer it to ice, but I know it is a topic of contention. (Oh, and I have a blog post about that here, it turns out!)

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    2. I have mixed feelings about it. I love riding my bike on packed snow but ice can really hurt. Studded tires are great but they are horrible to ride when you reach a dry/clean road.

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  11. Uh, is that your house? It is isn't it...

    Spindizzy

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  12. My Nokian studded snow tires, 26 x 2.0, work great on packed snow and even on glare ice. They're less effective in deep, unpacked snow because they sink in and steering is almost impossible. Same is true when snow is melting and in the "mashed potatoes" stage. I'll take a nice packed base any day. Funny, I've never associated snowfall with Northern Ireland. But here's photographic evidence.

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  13. My preferences are cold and clear and dry but every once and awhile a change of pace is good. Enjoy your snowy rides.

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  14. The very first winter after I became interested in bikes, I rode my Raleigh Sports step-through to and from class through the snow, and it was a delight. The fact that it was so heavy and maybe the lower-slung posture made it so I never once fell off. Fishtailing was fun, but that might just be because I'm young. Also, stuff like pedaling hard up a hill in 1st gear with the rear wheel spinning, me going slightly sideways with the front wheel pointed forward. It almost did not snow at all in Michigan this past December so I had to wait extra long but once it snowed, I went out before the salt trucks came and boy did I have fun. Now it's just a salty, sandy, slightly icy mess.

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  15. The heck with all the riding advice. Those are wonderful photos!

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