Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter biking

It snowed again on Sunday, and it didn't stop until another 12-15 inches fell on top of the six inches of snow we already had.  The news report stated that some areas of Billings received up to 21 inches of snow this November.  And like a lunatic, I am still riding my bike to work.  I knew that I was in for a doozy when I watched a car drive down our street with a wake of fluid snow behind it just like a motor boat on a calm lake.  Biking in the snow has a whole new set of challenges compounded with traveling feet away from 2000-pound hunks of steel controlled by stressed-out and sometimes angry people traveling to and from work.  My new studded tires do nothing for the snow, especially a foot and a half of it.  The soft snow usually pushes around the front tire of the bike and pedaling feels much like moving through slick sand.  However, after a car packs down the snow, it turns into a dry slush that grabs the front tire and tosses it all over the road.  I'm sure I'm quite the site pushing my bike through the snow at 5 mph frantically turning my handlebars back and forth to right myself before crashing into the snow.  And that's only if I have the speed or torque to push through.  Often I have to dip a foot into the snow losing all momentum.  Sometimes I can start up again but often I have to push the bike until I can find a better spot to start out again.  Billings does plow about 5 streets so when I finally get to one of those streets, I have to fight the traffic on the ice.  That's where the studded tires come in handy.
My Monday morning commute was a real battle.  The roads where only lightly traveled by then so they were a complete mess.  I had to walk most of the block and a half to Broadway before I could even think about hopping on the bike.  Intersections were a nightmare with ruts converging from the cross-street on my path of travel.  I arrived at work on Monday sweaty, out of breath, and my heart was about to explode.  I walked in with my helmet in hand, brushing off the snow when a coworker saw me and exclaimed "You rode your bike today?!"  She was visibly frazzled from her morning commute and proceeded to tell me of her snow troubles.  She struggled to even get out of her garage and after three attempts, finally gunned it shattering her side mirror on the garage door jamb in the process.  She got stuck several times and had to be pushed out of the snow once.  I told her that my bike was easy to push and rarely got stuck.  There are perks to my insanity.

That evening I decided to meet Sarah at the gym for spin class and racquetball.  I struggled again until I finally hit 3rd Avenue where the road was more packed.  As I rode along, some jerk in a gray sedan passed me in my lane just about knocking me off the bike.  I yelled at him while shaking my fist (just my fist) letting him know I was less than enthused with his driving techniques.  I followed the car until he turned off at a parking lot.  I watched as the car pulled through the parking lot, drive parallel to me and turned onto the next street just as I turned onto it.  He proceeded to drive toward me in my lane forcing me onto the sidewalk.  What a jerk!.  Sometimes I wish I had a baseball bat or tire iron strapped to my bike.   Its bad enough that I have to fight the snow because the city is too cheap to plow even after 21 inches of snow, but I have to deal with complete imbeciles and their metal death machines too!  Give me a break.

On a side note, I had a crazy idea this morning while fighting the snow.  I think it'd be awesome if I could rig two skis to my front fork that I could lower while riding through snow and put a studded paddle tire on the back rim.   This isn't exactly what I had in mind but its still pretty cool.  Maybe someday I'll find the time, ambition and tools to build a prototype.

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