Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter Riding

If you told me a couple years ago that I'd been riding my bike throughout the winter in bone chilling cold temperatures with snow beating down on me while trying to hug a tire rut made in the slushy snow, I'd have said you were absolutely crazy.  What started out as a fair weather attempt to lower my carbon footprint and live a healthier lifestyle has turned into a full blown passion that has surpassed all my expectations.  Somehow riding home from work in my first torrential rainstorm didn't seem so bad and, although I hesitated, I ventured out onto the snow and ice.  That was not an easy experience and I've had my share of scares and bruises from doing something that seemed so idiotic to me at one time.  I have to admit that I do recant every once in awhile and doubt that I should be on a bike on the ice.

This morning on my way to work I found a rut and started pedaling.  I was able to pick up some speed before the snow at the bottom of the rut turned to black ice.  Well, if there is one thing that I have learned about biking on ice, it is that when you are on ice, do nothing.  Do not turn.  Do not pedal.  Do not look around you.  Do not even breathe.  Just coast through and hopefully you'll make it.  The other thing I've learned, on ice you can go down instantly without any kind of warning.   That's just what happened this morning.  I hit that ice and froze to ride it out.  Suddenly my bike turns sideways and I slam my foot onto the road.  Now had the whole road been icy, I'd have been a goner.  As it was, most of the road was covered with 2-3 inches of loose packed snow so as my bike turned, the snow stopped my bike from flying out in front of me and I was able to recover.  With my heart racing, I got back on the bike and cautiously pedaled to work thinking about how ridiculous this must seem.  I mean, I wouldn't rollerblade in an ice rink.

Here are some things I've learned about winter riding:
  1. Dress warm, especially your feet, hands, face and ears.  You body may warm up as you ride but your toes, fingers, and ears never will.  Frostbite is not fun!
  2. Wear glasses or your eyes will water and sting, and your lashes will freeze shut.
  3. Ride in fresh powder if you know there is no ice under it.  The powder moves right out of the way and is easier to ride than the sloppy packed snow.
  4. Ride in the ruts of other vehicles.  Packed snow is easier to ride in than the loose sloppy stuff and packed snow gives you better traction than ice.
  5. Avoid ice.
  6. Ride slower than normal and always in a lower gear.  If you have to dip you foot or stop in heavy snow while in a higher gear, you may never get started again.
  7. Never let go of the handle bars unless the road is smooth and clear.
  8. Never turn or brake on ice.
  9. Hold your ground with other vehicles. They will wait and give you room when passing if you take the lane.  If you ride the shoulder vehicles typically won't give you as much room and you run the risk of slipping in front of them as they pass.
  10. Dream of warmer times!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frost Bite - Almost

It's been awhile, I know.  I have remained dedicated to my bicycle commuting throughout the last several cold and snowy weeks but I haven't been out for any joy rides.  We have all been sick and the roads have been a mess, plus I have started other projects at home that require my attention. 

Anyway, Sarah got me a digital thermometer for Christmas that tells me indoor and outdoor temperatures.  It's been nice because I can look at it and know how to dress for my ride into work.  Today I looked and it said 9 degrees.  Based on past experience, I know that about 10 degrees is the threshold where I really need to gear up with thicker gloves, ski mask, wool socks, scarf, heavy ski coat and maybe even thermals, but it is such a hassle to get all suited up.  I figured that 9 degrees was close enough and that I'd be fine with my lighter gloves and no mask, thermals or wool socks.  I still had the scarf, which I pulled up over my face, and my ski coat but with all of the sloppy snow on the roads it took me about 10 minutes longer to get to work.  (In the summer I can get to work in about 5 minutes with all green lights and no train.)  With that extra time on the bike, my fingers and toes started to get numb.  I pulled my scarf up over my face which left a small part of my neck exposed, and it burned with the cold.  When I got to work I was really scared of frostbite, but even more scared that I might have to ask for help getting my helmet off because my fingers wouldn't work.  How humiliating. 

But it didn't happen.  I got to work just before any real freeze had set in.  I was able to fumble with my helmet until I finally got it off and I've been sitting infront of my space heater for an hour.  I have finally thawed out.  Guess I should be more careful next time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Smooth as glass but slicker than snot!

I had to ride home at 10:00 this morning to meet up with the delivery men that were bringing my new windows and door.  That's a whole 'nother topic in itself.  How I will install 11 windows and a door in the middle of winter is beyond me, but it will get done. 

Back to the story.  I was in a hurry to get home and the roads where really smooth so I took it a little fast for the road conditions.  To me, it just looked like smooth hard pack and that is almost as easy to ride on as pavement.  There were no ruts or slush, generally good stuff.  So I'm cruising along and suddenly notice the sheen off of the supposed 'hardpack'.  That's when it happened.  I don't know if the front wheel slipped first or if the back wheel just decided it wanted to take the lead.  All I knew was that I was sliding down the road sideways and soon to go down.  I threw my left foot out to catch myself which, in turn, launched my bike out in front of me as I continued to slide one-footed down the road.  That didn't last more than a split second before that foot went up in the air as well leaving me flying through the air only to crash down on my left hip and lower back.  I sprawled out on my back in the middle of the road  trying to collect myself.  Then I remembered that I was lying down on  a busy street.  Luckily there were no cars behind me.

Slowly I lifted my bike up while shaking off the pain in my hip and pushed the bike off the road.  But something was wrong.   The back tire wouldn't turn.  As I examine the back brakes I found that one of the brake pads was pulled so tight that it wedged itself underneath the rim of the bike.  I gave it a good tug but it didn't budge.  I finally released the brake cable from the arm of the brake mechanism and jerked it free. 

After reinstalling the brake cable and testing the functionality of the brakes, I mounted the bike and tried again.  No more than fifty feet later, the bike did the same thing.  Going much slower this time, I was able to catch myself without going down.  I recovered and slowly crept through the intersection, turning onto a different street.  The intersection was so slick that I couldn't pedal through it.  I had to push the bike through with one foot as if it were a skate board or scooter with cross traffic quickly approaching.  The other roads on the way home were much better. 

I got home and sat down to wait for the delivery men. As they arrived, I jumped up and felt the dull aching in my hip and lower back.  The spill wasn't as harmless as I thought.  It sure beats cracking my elbow like I did last winter though.  I can't wait to see pavement again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snow day

1 mile
6 degrees

...and I was still sweating when I got to work this morning.  It snowed about 8 inches over the last 24 hours, most of last night.  I was nervous about riding in to work this morning but powder is easy to ride in.  It just moves right out of your way and the tires actually make contact with the ground.  But since a lot of the snow fell yesterday during the day there was no pavement underneath the powder, just a sloppy mess of dry slush partially compacted by passing vehicles.  This stuff sent my front tire flying in all directions.  I deemed it safer to ride in the ruts because at least I could see what was going on underneath me.

As I slowly crept out of the alley onto the street this morning, I felt like I was riding a rodeo steer just holding on for dear life.  I had a death grip on the handle bars as I tried to keep the front wheel straight.  I almost turned around to drop my bike off at home and walk it, but it was a new challenge, as I kept telling myself it was going to get better as I got to the busier streets (more cars to compact the snow).  It was true, it did get slightly better as I went.  On Broadway I was able to pedal 7-8 mph without loosing control.  Thats only 2 to 3 times as fast as I could walk it, but I was working hard, cranking the pedals with everything I had.  I couldn't catch my breath at times. I just kept telling myself, "Make it to Montana Ave.  It will be free sailing from there."  And it was.  I was able to pedal in at 12 mph which felt like flying after that last 1/2 mile of white sludge, which by-the-way, was easily the hardest 1/2 mile of my life. 

By the time I got to work I was sweaty and out of breath.  As I was locking my bike up I heard some tires spinning and looked up to see a 4X4 ATV with a snow plow stuck in the drift.  It made me feel good about my triumph on a bicycle that I was able to conquer something that even a 4x4 ATV was having trouble with.  And on to the next adventure, getting home...

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I must be going through winter cycling withdrawls.  December was a long month and I felt caged in by the cold weather and icy roads.  My only rides were just commuting to and from work.  Sometime in mid December I set out to the library seeking cycling books, not stuff about technique or races, but rather cycling experiences.  I found a book called "Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey through Australia" by Roff Smith.  Now the book wasn't about cold beer or crocodiles, in fact, I only vaguely remember a reference to the latter.  It was hardly about cycling either.  It was more of a travel log of the author's experiences as he traveled around the country, braving the intolerable heat of the Outback and the looming monsoons of the summer months.  He had many unique experiences and met many many interesting characters, mostly off the bike.  The author traveled 10,000 miles in about 9 months putting his old life on hold as he searched for direction in his life after his bicycle journey.  I thought it was a really cool story, nothing really exciting, but very intriguing.  It left me scheming my own bicycle journey.  I hope Sarah and I can take one someday.

The other thing that makes me think I'm going through cycling withdrawls is that my Christmas list was full of biking gear and nothing else.  And after I didn't get any of it, I went out and bought some stuff with some of the gift money I recieved.  First of all, I bought new pedals for my mountain bike.   I only have one worn out pair of dress (work) shoes that work well with those pedals.  All of my other sneakers and hiking shoes slide right off making it difficult to mountain bike.  I really wanted a set of clippless pedals for the bike but I was nervous about being clipped in on more technical stuff that I'm not very comfortable with nor did I want to wear my bike shoes to work everyday.  My solution, a pedal with the clipless mechanism on one side and a standard cage on the other side for all of my other shoes.  I tried them out today and loved it.  Of course, I just rode around the block because the roads are sloppy as can be here.  My other purchase was a thin skull cap that I can wear under my helmet comfortably but still keep me warm.  I don't know if it will work for the really cold days (10 degrees and below) but it will be nice for most other days below 50 degrees.

Winter has just begun and I'm already sick of it.  I can't wait until spring.  Until then, I'm sure I'll be reading other cycling logs and druling over the Nashbar catalog.