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!


AliJ said...

You are a dedicated soul. I'm awed at your perseverance, but scared for your safety. Be careful!

By the way, Happy Birthday two days early!

Russ said...

Its usually not that bad but we haven't really had a break in the weather for the snow to melt. It should be off the main streets in a few days but it can linger all winter in front of our house.

Oh, and shhhh about the birthday thing. Aw, what the heck. No one reads my blog anyway. Anyway, I'm not having a B-day this year. I'll be stuck in the Beartooths above Red Lodge at the scout Klondike Derby freezing my butt off. We are camping overnight tomorrow night too. I'm real excited about it if you can't tell. I have no qualms about riding a mile and a half to work in freezing temperatures and snow but I sure don't want to sleep in it.