Friday, December 25, 2009

Biking After (Another) Blizzard

Second Blizzard of the Season

Omaha hasn't had a Christmas blizzard since 1941. While most people stayed in this Christmas, I needed to deliver some presents, so what better opportunity or excuse to get the bike out again than the second blizzard of the season. Being still stir crazy from remaining indoors all Christmas Eve also helped me make the decision to head out. I love a challenge, and needed to burn off some holiday treats calories.

The drifts were deep in my neighborhood, and my elbow still hurts from digging out from the last storm, so I wanted no more shovel action. The streets in my hilly destination neighborhood hadn't seen a plow, so getting there by automobile would have been difficult, anyway. I'm happy to leave my truck in the drifts while my bike gets all the fun. Considering all this, I donned my blizzard biking apparel, loaded the messenger bag with gifts, and set out for a four mile trip.

There's a sidewalk under there somewhere.

Considering that there would not be a lot of traffic, I took my chances on routes I would never bike under normal circumstances. I rode Dodge Street and 42nd Street, with only a few gentle passes from holiday travelers, and not much trouble with the snow. It was when I turned onto Grover Street one-half mile from my destination that I had a problem. A silly wipeout (with witnesses) reminded me how slick things were as I turned off a plowed road onto one with drifts. Fortunately, falling on the snow drifts wasn't unlike falling onto a couch. I ended up walking about 1/3 of a mile in a spot where the snow was just too thick on an uphill climb. For my final hill climb, I carried my bike on my shoulder cyclocross style, taking tiny steps into really deep snow.

I didn't take any more pictures as I made my way out. I arrived safely, and not at all cold or chilled, in time for gifts exchange, a nice Christmas lunch, and time spent with family.

On the way back, I made really good time since some of the roads had been plowed for the first time, or perhaps replowed. I didn't have to do any walking or pushing this time.

The trips were slow, but consistent, averaging about 10 MPH in my lowest gear.

I did stop for some fun photos.

King of the hill!

I wish I could say I rode my bike to the top.

This is my leg sunk into a drift up to my knee.

Warning: Don't try this with your SUV.

What To Wear?

After a year of all-season bike commuting, I've got down pretty well what works for me. In case any of this information may be of use to others, I'll list the conditions, and what I wore.

Blizzard Trip, Leg One: High winds with blowing snow, temperature around 10 degrees.

Blizzard Trip, Leg Two: Reduced winds, no more falling snow, temperature around 22 degrees.

  • long sleeved base layer top, polypropylene (from sporting goods store)
  • short sleeved wicking shirt (from department store)
  • another long sleeved base layer shirt
  • long sleeved wicking ski shirt (from sporting goods store)
  • long sleeved zip-up cycling jersey jacket (from bike shop)
  • hi-visibility cycling wind breaking shell (from sporting goods store)
  • AmFIB leg tights (from cycling store)
  • base layer leg tights on top of AmFIBs (from sporting goods store. I probably didn't need these, but in case I ended up walking more, I wanted to make sure I'd stay warm)
  • cycling knickers (custom made from Scout Dry Goods)
  • glove liners under lobster claw gloves
  • fleece balaclava over head and face
  • polypro balaclava on top of head
  • wool cycling cap on top of head
  • helmet, of course
  • MTB style SPD shoes for clipless pedals
  • ski goggles on the trip out. Didn't need them for the return trip. 10 degrees seems to be my threshold for requiring goggles.
To the uninitiated, biking in the snow might seem strange, but a properly equipped bike and rider can really get around quite well on city streets. There's no dig out, defrost, or warm up time, and the freedom of self propelled travel in the face of weather that all but shuts down a city is a great feeling. It's also fun to cycle past people trying to get their cars unstuck.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Biking After A Blizzard

First Blizzard of the Season

Heck, yeah! I'm riding!

Technically, the blizzard was overnight, and while there were still 30 MPH winds in the morning, the snow had stopped and most of the blowing snow had settled. There were still some wicked drifts and plow wakes on the neighborhood and side streets. I don't think it was ever warmer than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

AM Commute

There was lots of pushing in the neighborhoods and side streets. It took me about 30 minutes to go 2 miles.

PM Commute

I only had to dismount once, and riding on the main streets was pretty easy. It took me 15 minutes to go 2 miles.

I halfway considered taking the bus home, but as the day went on, MAT kept pushing back the time they were going to resume service. Finally they announced that they weren't going to run any buses. So much for dependable public transportation.


Here are some photos I took in the morning and around lunch time. You'll notice the large wakes in the center lanes. The city is experimenting with pushing snow to the center to ease parking and pedestrian access to sidewalks. I think it's working, but it seemed to make for some awkward moments when traffic needed to move from one side of the street to the other.

Cycling home on Farnam Street, also with a huge wake in the middle, made me believe that the one way street might serve better as a two way street, especially if there were bike lanes along either side.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Lights on a Bike

Graphic design by Emily Redd

On the occasion of next week's 2009 Bike Omaha Bike De'lights holiday lights tour, I decided to get festive and decorate my bike.

On the handlebars is a wreath with sleigh bells. A sleigh bell also hangs near each brake lever.

I used battery operated lights from Walmart. Each strand cost about $6. I wove one strand around the main triangle, and a second is secured using zip ties and home made fender clips. I fashioned the fender clips from a Dr. Pepper soda can using tin snips.

The battery packs are secured under the saddle using a plethora of zip ties, using more than needed, as they have a tendency to break in cold weather.

Please come out and join us for the ride, even if you don't have a decorated bike. I will have some extra sleigh bells to hand out if you want to jingle all the way.

The ride has garnered some interest from the community:
Be sure to follow @BikeOmaha on Twitter for last minute updates and news about the ride.