|More Ominous than Seeing Yesterday's Tire Tracks Was Seeing No Tire Tracks at All!|
When I was first learning to ski, more recently than you might imagine, a Boeing engineer who had skied since he was a young child explained to me; “if you’re not falling, you’re not learning.” Later that year, the same Boeing engineer broke a number of bones while skiing. Well I did a lot of learning today on my very first bike commute in the snow/ice. First tracks, so to speak. It was GREAT fun! Fortunately, I was able to avoid breaking anything real important or even expensive. As you might suspect from the intro, I fell a lot and learned a lot. When I was growing up in Seattle, it would never have occurred to me to ride a bike in icy or snowy conditions. Who says Texas isn’t progressive? Besides, at LCI training, we were told that the SAFEST cyclists are those that ride every day, in all conditions. Apparently, they acquire skills that help them avoid crashes. Yeah, that’s it; I’m becoming a safer cyclist.
|If You're Not Falling, You're Not Learning, Or So I Was Told|
|I Went Back for Rain Pants|
Snow/Ice Commute Pattern
In areas where the road had dried out before the snow, riding was easy and pleasant, though I found that, as in skiing moguls, you want to go the “right speed.”The right speed is “just right;” not too fast and not too slow. My “right speed” and your “right speed” would be different. On the other hand, in areas approaching intersections, and other places where slick ice underlay the snow, I found that it was sometimes problematic to stay upright. A WISE cyclist quickly learns to use extra caution when attempting to get back up AFTER a fall. It is one thing to fall, but it is quite another to fall a second time on top of your bike. OTOH, motorists, seeing such events, give an unusually wide passing margin if the cyclist managed to collect all the bits before they approach. Either that or they were amazed at bright yellow rainwear. Contrary to my test rides, each intersection posed a tradeoff dilemma. “Do I stay on the bike and fall down or do I fall down when I try to get OFF the bike?” For the record, in my current stage of expertise, I found that neither solution was entirely reliable. Intersections represent unusual problems for a cyclist, just as they do for our fair-weather brethren. About the only element of previous training I adopted is that I crossed wheel ruts much the same way as I would cross railroad tracks – at a 90 degree angle. That did seem to work. Maybe I was just lucky.
Toughest Commute Element
Surprisingly, I found that the toughest part of the entire commute was about a half mile along a separated multi-use path. Yesterday, I verified that the surface of the path was mostly bare and dry, and figured it’d be a snap to ride. Well, this morning, this being Texas, as you might guess, the path wasn’t plowed or sanded. In fact, I found that I was unable to tell where the path edge was and wound up walking my bike through scenic fields and eventually navigating based on recognizable landmarks. The path delayed my journey by about 15 minutes. It would have been worse but I finally encountered a stretch where I could tell where the path was, and that enabled me to make faster-than-pedestrian progress.
Surprisingly Nice Commute Element
I also encountered a pleasant surprise. Bedford-Euless road, a long uphill stretch, turned out to be the simplest part of the entire morning journey, obviating my planned snow route. I started up in the right lane and found that traction was reasonable. Better yet, all my motoring friends were unwilling to test the snow-covered surface in the right lane and stuck to the two ruts in the snow. No falls at all going up that hill in my twelve foot bike lane, and even had some motorist been braver than the rest, motorists are able to easily stop if necessary while going uphill. It is going DOWN the hills where they get in trouble.
I was uncommonly glad I wore a helmet this morning. However, I have a number of helmet suggestions for novice snow and ice bike riders. First off, learn with a helmet nearing the end of its shelf life. Second, ignore any advice to discard a helmet once you have crashed with it. Since it is impractical to carry a half dozen spare helmets along with you, wait until you get home again before retiring the helmet. I think I hit my helmet hard about four or five times. While it may not have saved my life, it certainly was a lot more pleasant and satisfying to hear that “whack” than to imagine a “thud” from my unprotected head. This is an argument in favor of using the cheapest and oldest usable helmet you possess in these conditions. I was glad I was wearing my “Wally World Special” and not my bike shop Giro helmet. I regret not wearing an older cheap helmet, but my Schwinn helmet got melted in the Land Rover last summer.
I had a snow route. It worked OK for the trip home, but was completely inappropriate for the trip in. To keep this lesson short, I simply recommend being adaptable as you discover how the conditions marry up with your particular skills (or lack of same) and bike. Be especially wary of a bike path, or even a bike lane, unless you have past bad-weather experience with that path. Even in such situations, bad weather has many variations so what works one time may not work later. Just as motorists vary their route when it snows, it makes sense for cyclists to do the same. Unlike motorists, cyclists need to consider the capabilities of their chosen vehicle, as well as shortcomings of the motor vehicles that are usually so predictable.
In my previous post, Justin cleverly commented about lowering the saddle and Big Oak mentioned good points about clipless pedals and handlebars. Well, while I’m not sure lowering the saddle would help avoid fall situations, it sure would have reduced the stress and wear and tear on my rain pants. “Best efficiency” is not the main objective when riding in snow and ice. Kudos to Justin for that one. Who’d have thought such wisdom about ice riding would come from Dallas?
|Clipless Pedals Came from Ski Bindings|
Big Oak also advocates keeping one’s hands on the handlebars when going down. I was fortunate in this regard, because I learned NOT to attempt to brace against a fall with one’s arm when I learned to snowboard. Snowboarders break wrists and skiers blow out knees. Roll with the fall. If you can do this, you are less likely to break bones and other valuable body parts. My take away from this is that learning to fall can be a useful skill for a cyclist. Once learned, it may also come in useful for a fall in more typical cycling conditions. Certainly learning to fall can do no harm.
Raingear is another area for attention. I use a yellow O2 rain outfit. It is light and compacts down well in a trunk bag. It is almost ideal for the occasional Texas rain storm. However, the pants are not going to work for you for snow/ice bike learning. Mine now look like they were run through a shredder. Between falling down and getting up and getting on and off saddles, these pants aborbed as much wear as they would in a decade of regular bike riding. If you’re going to learn to ride and fall, the pants better be able to take that. Shower’s Pass? The “High Vis Police” will NOT be pleased. My O2 pants are yellow and the Shower’s Pass replacements come only in BLACK. OTOH, I found no damage at all to my yellow O2 rain jacket. I think you want pants that can use suspenders. I found that mine would droop and then get ripped when I got back on the bike. Showers Pass will accept suspenders. REI sells Showers Pass and I even have a coupon. Hmm. Black it is.
My headlight was more or less irrelevant most of the time. While the mighty P7 was very bright, it wouldn’t show me where the invisible bike trail was any better than imitating a bike ninja. What’s more, I discovered that in cold and snowy conditions, one should not expect as much battery life as usual. My P7 winked out about an hour into the morning commute, even though I’ve only made two full commutes this week, along with several test rides (normally, my light will last for a full week of morning commutes). The old Cateye was more than adequate thereafter. In future, if I encounter days of ice/snow, I’ll simply turn the P7 down a notch so it can make it through a full week of commutes. Remember that if you ride in the snow and ice, you’ll be using your lights longer, which should be taken into account if you have battery-operated lights.
Last year, I found that at 11F, ski mittens were too warm. This year, at 17F, in the snow, ski gloves were too cold – and later they got too warm. Regardless, keeping the damp out was the main objective and they accomplished that. I have not yet found an ideal hand solution. I brought my cold weather cycling gloves, but they’re simply not designed to be jammed into the snow.
|These Tires Would Have Kicked Butt in the Snow|
Vittoria Cross XG Pro in 34c Width - And a LOT of Mud
The Tire Limit on this Bike is Generous
Mounting and Dismounting
Over on Facebook, there is a thread about proper bike mounting/dismounting, with many amusing comments about me demoing ways not to mount a bike. Well, I wound up trying several different methods and found that “power position,” “scooter start,” “cowboy start” all had situations where they worked and others where they failed. All I can say is that one would be wise not to get overly enamored with any particular approach. Sometimes you’ll have to get the bike moving and then get aboard. Sometimes you’ll want to be aboard and then get the bike moving. Sometimes, you’ll test the conditions briefly via coasting along while you stand on a pedal. Sometimes you will be aboard and you’ll straddle scoot along a bit, trying to decide what the next action should be. In the snow, I vote for results over style or even what might be consistently successful in conditions where the bike wheels aren’t imitating sled runners.
I had some opportunity to contemplate the merits of falling to the right (drive side) versus falling to the left. Falling to the right puts expensive components, such as the derailleur, at risk of getting bent. On the other hand, falling to the right, in theory, puts you further away from any following automotive traffic, and the chain is less likely to pop off the chain ring. At my level of expertise, I found this is mainly of academic interest to one that uncontrollably falls in both directions often. If any expert readers have a preference, I’d LOVE to hear it. Chandra suggests carrying a latex glove to help rerail a chain, but I would not have used such a glove this morning. The ski glove will simply have some chain lube on it forevermore and the latex glove would certainly not have fit over the ski glove. Speaking of falling, on the way to work, I fell too many times to count. On the way home, I didn't fall at all. There's SOMETHING to be learned in THAT particular bit of trivia as well.
|Better Choices Were Available|
Than Costco Court Classics
It was a good commute, and I took quite a few pictures that follow. Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY, but I think some non-snow days next week are pretty sweet as well. I think I have to think about the rain pant issue in particular...
|Entrance to the Bedford Path. I Was Shortly to be Totally Lost and Reduced to Finding my Way Via Landmarks|
There'd Been One Pedestrian Before Me. I Lost His/Her Trail in My Own Wanderings
|Top of the Last Hill Before Work. Going Up the Hill Wasn't Hard. I Did Fall Trying to Get to Here from the Arterial as a Pedestrian - Twice|
As You Can See, Traffic Was Not Real Heavy
|Motorist Wonders What the Crazy Cyclist is Doing Taking Pictures - Or Maybe She's Wondering if She'll Make the Left Turn|
|A Plastic Bag Makes Sure the Saddle Won't be Wet at the End of the Day|
The Lock Was My Mini U. The Lock I USUALLY Use Was Frozen
|This Road was Difficult to WALK on in the Morning. I Fell Twice on It|
By Afternoon, Riding it was Easy. Look, Ma, No Falls!
|Treacherous Spots Remained in the Afternoon, But They Were Localized|
|Almost Home, Buddy Rests While I Get Some Warm Liquid|