Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cycling In A Winter Wonderland

Notes On My First Snow Commute

In a nutshell: If you want to continue commuting in the Nebraska Winter, get studded tires!

Last week I installed my Innova studded tires on my Trek 7300 commuter. Since I cycle, in part to save money, it seemed counter intuitive to pay $45 a tire just to keep riding during a time that more sane people hang it up for a few months. However, other reasons I cycle to work are simply "because I can, " "because I want to," and "because I believe in active transportation," it wasn't hard to convince myself that it was worth it.

The studded tires were recommended to me by MOD's succinct blog post, as well as a personal demo in his shop. Comments about studded tires on other sites and blogs just convinced me even more.

Wednesday morning saw Omaha streets still covered by packed snow. Only the main corridors were completely free of snow and ice. As soon as I leave my driveway, I'm on a steep down grade dropping about 20 feet over less than half a block. I just leaned back in the saddle and pay really close attention to the brakes. No problem at all... no slipping, no sliding.

As I'm cruising north toward Center Street on 48th Street, I realize just how quiet it is. I'm out earlier than most traffic down a side street that doesn't have much traffic on a dry day. The snow has made everyone drag a little. The street lights reflecting on the snow light up everything, even though the sun hasn't come up yet.

My wheels are crunching a little in the packed snow, but the gravely sound I've been hearing from the studs complaining on the dry pavement is gone. I know my studs are working when I can't hear them. The crunching and my own breathing are the only sounds.

By the time I've gone a couple of miles up and down a few hills, I think I've got the hang of it. Rear wheel traction is not a problem. The front wheel can wag a little when it dislodges some of the packed snow, but it's easy to adjust and keep moving forward.

The few cars that pass me on Woolworth give me a wide berth. Thank you. The new resistance has put me down a gear or two, but I'm making pretty good time. I work my way to Leavenworth Street, but rather than ride downtown on Leavenworth, I decide to try Harney Street. The few close passes I've had are usually on Leavenworth, so I figure Harney might be a little less in auto traffic.

The drivers on Harney seem to move a little more quickly. The only negative aspect of my ride come when a moron SUV driver passes me on the right, using an unplowed parking lane, with cars parked in the parking lane. What an idiot. I wasn't going that much slower than the traffic in the other lanes. He then runs a yellow-going-on-red light, otherwise I would have caught up with him and given him a eyefull of my white blinky in his rearview mirror. :)

I make it to work a little later than usual, but wow, what a ride. Being active the whole way, I was never cold. I couldn't count the number of people I passed sitting cold in the vehicles waiting for them to warm up.

On the ride home, I grabbed a #2 bus to get to Lowe's to pickup some more items for my bathroom remodel project. A side agenda here is to ride the Keystone back to Grover to check out the trail after a snow. Traffic along the 76th Street was a little nerve racking, as the normally three lane road has been reduced to two. To get around me, motorists have to brave the snow wakes in the center lane.

Once I get to the trail, I find it plowed. Awesome! It was plowed everywhere except on the wooden bridges. I saw no other trail users from the Furniture Mart to Grover Street. Cold, dark, and quiet, I rode alongside a flock of honking geese rising from the creek. The ride up the Grover Street sidewalk toward 60th was spotty, with some sidewalks cleared and some not. After crossing 60th, I duck back into neighborhood side streets heading toward 48th and back into my neighborhood.

In summary, studded tires are incredible. I can honestly say that I can get around better on my bicycle that I can in my light pickup truck. I'm already looking forward to my morning ride tomorrow. However, with an ice storm predicted for the afternoon, I might end up riding the bus home.


munsoned said...

Awesome writeup, Scott. You have discovered the joys of snow riding. Isn't it weird how quiet everything gets? I kinda like it.

My ride was interesting this morning. I had some annoying ice buildup in my fenders so I tried to bunny hop the rear tire to get rid of it. However, doing so dislodged my frame pump!! Luckily I had a little velcro strap around it, otherwise I might have frame-pump-to-the-spokes-ed myself. But I tried to fit it back on while riding. Of course I didn't get it right till a block from work. I guess with all that, I know my slick 32C tires work well in mostly plowed streets. But yes, this afternoon's ride home will be interesting.

MOD said...

Sweet, glad you like the tires. Mine our working amazing too.

brady said...

You're making a studded tire believer out of me. Thanks for the encouragement - I'm actually envious. Curious, though, what does your wife and family think about you riding in these conditions? Also, I'm wondering how the studs will do on hard concrete when the snow/ice is gone. Maybe Mod can speak with more experience on this one.

Scott Redd said...

Munson: Way to bike that ride. You should think about getting your pump shortened. All respectable cycling shops can do that "while-u-wait." :) Your pump story reminds me of the Monty Python cycling skit. There's a running gag about a frame pump.

No sign of rain yet, freezing, or just the wet kind. I've got my bus ticket just in case.

MOD: Have you used studs in previous seasons? Any guess at the life of them? I'm thinking you said we might expect to get two seasons out of the Innovas.

Brady: I can't recommend the studded tires enough. Though I've only had a few days on the snow with them, I can't imagine what it would be like without them.

In answer to your question about how my family feel about my winter commutes: My wife thinks I should take out another insurance policy. My son thinks I'm crazy, and my daughter accepts it as just another one of daddy's odd things to do. :)

brady said...

Hey Redd, do you follow the Commute by Bike? You've been step for step with them lately about winter riding.