Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blizzard Bike Commute

By 4pm, Monday's blizzard had died down a bit. The snow had stopped falling, but the 20-30 MPH winds kept visibility, and the ability to ride a straight line down a bit.

Given the mess that the roads were in, I chose to ride sidewalks and trails until getting within a half-mile of my home where I then rode the neighborhood streets.

I've found that riding west out of downtown on Douglas Street sidewalks is not that bad. The north sidewalk is very wide all the way to 24th Street. It narrows a bit from there, but in all, you can ride it almost all the way to the Turner Boulevard Trail near 30th. I've found this to be a good alternative to the streets when they are at their slipperiest and traffic at its most impatient.

I found the Turner Boulevard Trail to be mostly cleaned. I am presuming the Parks Department used a brush to clean it. Yay! I was amused to find that the operator had some difficulty seeing the trail, as the brushed path didn't exactly match the true path of the trail.

Heading up Pacific, then down to the Field Club Trail, I found it mostly clear, as well. Blowing snow covered parts of it, but in all, the trail riding was 1000% easier and safer than the street riding would have been.

The hard part came when I left the Field Club Trail to head west up Vinton. Again, I chose the sidewalks for the slow hill climb. Most of the sidewalks were rutted and filled with drifting snow. I've ridden in the snow a few times this winter, but never through the snow. Come on people, shovel your dang walks? I shovel mine.

This was hard! Riding uphill, wind shearing from the side, turning the front wheel wildly from side to side trying to keep moving forward through the ruts while the loose snow was impeding me more. I wonder if this is what mountain biking is like. At one point I got stuck and had to hop off and walk a few feet. Another time my foot came off the platform pedal and the crank spun around backward and whacked my shin with the pedal.

Both yesterday and this morning I tried a trick with my fogging glasses under my goggles. My cousin Billy in Alabama advised me to try rubbing in some dish soap on my glasses and then buffing it off. It worked well yesterday, but this morning I got some sweat or something on the lens and had to stop and remove my glasses. Goggles work great during the high winds, blowing snow (and sand!) and temperatures below 10 degrees.

This morning my real derailleur was frozen after slamming through the snow drifts, forcing me to ride my bike 3-speed style (ie: 3 front chainring positions in the front and the largest rear cog in the back).

Tomorrow's weather looks good, but Thursday the range from low to high will be -5 to 5 degrees. Another fun day of commuting.


brady said...

Can you ride on backstreets that have been plowed? Instead of Vinton, have you tried one of the lesser routes where traffic is not is light, allowing you to ride in the center camber of the road? Riding on the backstreets that are somewhat clear will keep you out of the sidewalk ruts while maintaining more visibility to drivers. Sidewalks can hide you from them. Just some thoughts.

Do you store your bike outside or in a non-heated garage? Curious to hear if your front der is still frozen. Maybe the early stages of one day going single speed!

Also, any luck finding the vagabond?

Scott Redd said...

Hi Brady:

I left the Field Club Trail yesterday on Arbor Street (I think) and wound my way back to Vinton near the intersection with 42nd Street. This worked out well, as I accomplished two things:

1 - I avoided the steep climbs, replacing them with more gradual inclines on easier to navigate packed snow

2 - I avoided the traffic

Parts of the neighborhood route took me through a rental neighborhood, with many cars parked in the streets, and some coming and going activity. The route was somewhat circuitous, but in all, it was much better than the Vinton sidewalks.

I typically don't like sidewalk riding, for the same issues you cited. I will choose a sidewalk in extreme cases and/or narrow one or two lane roads with few opportunities for cars to get around me, especially on hills.

My bike is parked in our unheated garage. The temperature in the garage is always a little warmer than the outside, but often it's not warm enough to melt off the snow and ice, which I think is a good thing, since it could refreeze in bad places when I take it out in the morning.

My derailleurs worked just fine on the way home last night and this morning. It was nice to have my selectable range of gears back.

The problem now is keeping batteries charged in this cold. It's not so bad with the LEDs, but the front halogen beam, which normally gives me a full week of commuting (about 10 hours) is only lasting a few days. I ran out this morning. I might bring a battery charger in to the office, but for today's ride home, I'll have to put in the backup alkaline cells that I keep for situations like this.

The Vagabond jacket is lost for good. I've replaced it with a cheaper version from Sports Authority. I plan to write a post about it.