Winter Street Dynamics

The end of December has brought an interesting mix of personality dynamics among road users.  In my experience, Chicago drivers are much nicer in the winter and so far I’ve had no issues.  They’ve been giving me generous passing room and follow slowly when necessary.  I haven’t seen a lot of cyclists out there, usually sports types who ignore me.  Meanwhile, pedestrians and onlookers have been more outgoing than usual, with a road crew waving at me, a guy enthusing as he crossed the street, “You are brave!  Look at you!  Be safe!” and a Streetwise vendor telling how he loves to see me ride by on my bike every day.

As for travel conditions – although nothing like the northeast blizzards, several inches of snow fell in Chicago over Christmas, piling on top of the existing snow.  The plows cleared the streets decently, but bike lanes are full of snow and slush, while small neighborhood streets are still pretty snowy.  No problem – I stick to main routes, ride outside the bike lanes and feel extra security from my studded tires.

How is the end of the beginning of winter going for you?  Any interesting encounters while riding around?

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29 thoughts on “Winter Street Dynamics

  1. Carolyn I. says:

    It’s going better for me. I was having problems with frozen chain links on my Rocky Mountain Hybrid and flat tires. I had 3 flat tires just in one week!

    The other day, I got a used mountain bike that’s hardly been used at all, for winter use. As it needed a new chain, I taught myself how to change a chain! First time for me, yeh! The bike shop was good though, I came back the next day to double check how to shorten the new chain, and they even did it for me!

    The thick knobby tires ride much better through the snow. I am thinking of getting some Schwalb Ice Spiker tires next Winter. Which type of studded tires do you have?

  2. SM says:

    Here in Southern, NH a lot of the snow from the blizzard has already melted and I’m hoping I can ride tomorrow. I haven’t seen any bikers out on the road for a week :(

    Since you and Carolyn are discussing winter tires – I came across this on the forum called Team Estrogen – and it made me laugh. Not sure this would work for all bikes… but I did get a kick out of it.

    • G.E. says:

      Thanks for sharing this… rather ingenious, isn’t it? As you said, probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but if one doesn’t have feet of snow on the ground, it could be quite useful.

    • Coreen says:

      I can’t even keep the zip ties holding the garland on my handlebars from snapping in the cold. I can’t imagine this working for long, here on the Canadian prairie.

  3. Brent says:

    With all these snow-riding pics, I’m a little abashed to say that here in L.A. I’m a bit nervous to ride in the rain. Perhaps it’s all relative (?).

  4. beany says:

    Yeah…it rained a bit here so I took the bus. My shoes got a little wet and I got annoyed that the sun wasn’t up in Sunny San Diego. Hmpf!!

    Snow is so beautiful in photos though!

  5. Miss Sarah says:

    You and Oma look great out there! I am well aware of the snowy caked on snow in the tires. Represent! I was watching a time lapse video of the NW snow storms and I was like, “Oh, that’s why I didn’t ride for two weeks” because the snow in Edmonton was very similar. Uck.


  6. BicyclesOnly says:

    Greetings from New York City! I’ve been enjoying and spreading your winter riding tips to my #bikenyc tweeps.

    Knobby tires look like a good idea, but I personally haven’t used them in years. I must confess I dislike the drag they add. I get by year-round with puncture-proof hybrid tires. I find they work just fine in up to 4′ of soft snow and any depth of packed snow, as long as I don’t try to ride too fast.

    What I find interesting about riding around the city in the snow is how much better-suited for these conditions bikes are, compared to motor vehicles. I was able to ride on most roads that had been plowed or packed by traffic. And whenever I got stuck, all I had to do was dismount and walk a few yards to more favorable terrain. Meanwhile, motor vehicles were stuck everywhere because of their weight! I saw snow plows sitting idle because stranded cars had blocked them, and a snow plow which had itself gotten stuck and needed a tow. Plus all kinds of dangerous maneuvers by the drivers, like backing up the length of a road to get out and “rocking” the car by gunning the engine right next to a crosswalk full of people.

    And to think bike critics like to cite winter weather as the reason not to support cycling! In fact, bikes function better as urban transport in the snow than MVs.

    Here’s a short vid I made from footage on Monday, trying to make this point:

  7. Renee says:

    Same experience! Chicago car drivers have been much nicer to me on my bike this winter compared to the summer! It’s very encouraging.

  8. Dave says:

    My winter street dynamics center mostly around avoiding being splashed by cars running through puddles :) Thankfully it’s not really much of a problem, but it certainly has happened.

    Right at the border of fall and winter is the worst, as all the leaves from the trees clog up the storm drains, creating some areas where the entire road is basically 4-5 inches under water. Had a minivan hit one of those going about 30mph with me right next to them in the bike lane once. Awesome.

    The days we get a little sprinkling of snow are a nice respite, I like riding in a little bit of snow :)

    • Iyen says:

      Heehee. I’ve noticed cars are surprisingly good with puddles, the often slow down if they’re passing me through one.

      My winter street dynamics center mostly around avoiding potholes, which are completely out of control in Boston.

  9. Curly Suze says:

    This is still my first year of bike commuting (started at beginning of July) but so far it’s going well ~ yay! :) The commuter bike (same model as Trish’s Bat) is doing OK on its all-seasons. The weight of the bike is very reassuring when going through snow or across slippery surfaces. The roads here (exurbia, north of Worcester MA) are normally not too bad. I did ride home one night in light snowfall and it turned out OK. The drivers here have been pretty good all along.

  10. AJ says:

    Thanks for inspiring us to keep riding through the winter! I love the boots you are wearing in the picture. Can you tell me who makes them?

  11. Scott says:

    Dottie, does the shifter cable freeze on your Oma? I have the sram 3-speed, and, now that I park in an unheated garage at home, sometimes I can’t shift.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Maybe some water has gotten into your cable housing? A new cable, housing and ferrules would most likely fix the problem, and that’s a really inexpensive fix.

  12. Danielle says:

    We are the proud new owners of a boxcycle from Copenhagen Cyclery here in Chicago and doing our best to enjoy and break it in during these winter months!

    My favorite are the people that think I’m so tough for biking in the winter. Even today, a gorgeous sunny 30+ degree day, I got such a comment. (Granted I am seriously pregnant and toting a toddler) Seriously, tough?! Biking out there today when I had to take off my hat and scarf because I was sweating. Well, that isn’t tough. That is pure bliss!

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I’ve read that third trimester cycling is way easier than walking, and easier than getting in and out of a car seat too. Would you agree? And good on ya. :)

      • Danielle says:

        Any mode that gets me where I need to go faster than walking is a win these days. The only trouble I’m having is getting onto the saddle without hitting the belly on the handlebars. And, with the shift in balance that comes with pregnancy, I am glad to be using three wheels instead of just two.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Wondering where you ride outside the bike lanes? Do you just use the sidewalk? Here in Madison, WI, there isn’t really anywhere else to ride other than bike lanes or maybe the sidewalk since the lanes are right along the side of the road and the other side is just the regular car lanes of the road. Our trail system is pretty good, but not enough to get to a lot of places.

  14. velojoy says:

    Like you, I experienced a “calming” effect among motorists here in post-blizzard NYC. I was pleasantly surprised at how wide a birth drivers gave me when I had to move into traffic due to blocked bike lanes. From the “expect the unexpected” file: I was suddenly and kind of hilariously blanketed at an intersection when a snow-blower fired up on an adjacent sidewalk!

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