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.


Sean said...

Nice write up. Totally true about enjoying riding in weather that shuts down a city.

brady said...

I used to think that there were only two times to ride a bike: 1) when you feel like it and 2) when you don't. Now I see there's a third reason: when you want to make a statement.

I don't know if there's much of gap between #1 and #3 for you.

Thanks for the write up. I agree totally about not having to wait for the car to warm up/defroster to kick in. I think only cyclist understand that.

As for layering: I was wondering if you were too warm with all those layers. Would you reevaluate next time?

Scott Redd said...

Thanks for the comments, Sean and Brady.

My truck is still snowed in. Given the short work week coming up, lack of funds to go spend out shopping and eating out, I'm likely to just leave it stuck, walking, biking and busing anywhere I need to go.

I wonder if I can wait for spring.

Brady: I was a little moist by the time I arrived for my delivery. I could have probably done without one of the shirts, and possibly the extra leg base layer. There were a few unknowns that urged me to err on the side of caution.

I had no idea of road conditions beyond what I could see from my window. My plan was to ride as much as I could, but be prepared to walk, even walk back to my place if necessary. For that, I wanted the extra layers. I can always shed a layer into my bag if I don't need it.

I even took a U-lock and cable in the event that I needed to secure the bike and leave it somewhere if things got really nasty.

My trip was only four miles each way, but given the unknown street conditions and potential to have to resort to walking, I'd probably still take all of those layers. If I were simply out cycling on clear roads and clear air in the same temperature, but little wind, I'd probably shed the hi-viz windbreaker.

I spent some time looking at YouTube videos of people riding a Surly Pugsley bike. This beast has 4 inch tires that ride on TOP of snow and sand. The tires are so big and voluminous that the entire bike can float on water (sans rider, of course).

I'd really be curious to know if a Pugsley can get around on unplowed streets with drifts.

pseudosu said...

Cool blog. I've ridden for fun in winter on snowmobile trails and am gearing up to ride my fav mountain bike trail when it hits 20 again.

Lots of the guys there ride pugs. There's even a race dedicated to them called pugfest in feb. If you want to find people to get info from about them there is a forum full of them at
Hillside is my trail.

cheers. :)

The Douglas said...

Scott: Any plans for tomorrow's bike and shovel excursion?

Scott Redd said...

Thanks for the info on the Pugs, Sue. They do look like great bikes to get around in the snow when the roads and trails aren't plowed.

The D: I do plan on meeting another Guerrilla Trail Crew member tomorrow, 1pm, at Keystone and Blondo.

Here's a link to the info over to your blog.

Hope to see you there!

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