EleanorNYC has a lovely little post today showing “women who look stylish on their bike and not afraid of a little snow.” This reminded me that to not be afraid of a little snow, I need studded tires. If there is snow on the ground that has not yet been totally plowed off the salted streets, I’ll only ride my bike with studded tires.
These are the bad boys on which I rely: Schwalbe Marathon Winters. I bought them five or six winters ago and they’re still going strong.
Because I don’t have the time, patience or interest to swap out the tires myself (a longer-than-usual process for my Dutch bike), I brought Oma to a local bike shop a few weeks ago for her yearly tire swap.
When it was time to pick Oma up the next day, I Divvied to the shop. (Thanks again, Divvy!)
My girl was waiting for me, still wearing her medical bracelet.
Oma was also wearing a note from my friend Dan, who saw her when he happened by the shop later to have his bike serviced. An inside joke involving karaoke and Justin Timberlake – fun! :-) Now Oma and I are ready to take on winter together and not be afraid of snow. A lot of Chicago bicyclists get by fine without studded tires – and in fact I never put mine on two winters ago due to the relatively mild weather – but I like having them as an option. What do you do to take on winter bicycling?
Yesterday I posted pictures I took while playing in the blizzard and I mentioned my bike ride the day after the storm. Here is a detailed account of that ride and a look at the blizzard’s not-so-pretty aftermath.
After pulling Oma out of the garage and into the alley, I began doubting my decision to ride my bike one day after 20 inches of snow poured down on Chicago.
The condition of the first street I came upon did not increase my self-confidence.
However, I had a plan to take arterial streets that I usually avoid due to scary car traffic. I knew they would be plowed and a bit calmer than usual, and I was right.
Once I reached my destination, I just had to find a parking spot…
This bike called dibs way earlier. I’d say he earned it.
Luckily I found a bike rack that was not totally consumed by snow.
Once on foot, I realized that bicycling in the road was much easier than walking down un-shoveled sidewalks.
Well, except for streets like this one. The side streets still had a ridiculous amount of snow.
Overall, the ride was a pretty low-key adventure. My intimate familiarity with the area, bicycling confidence and studded tires helped the situation. For sure, I was happy to return home at sunset, safe and sound and feeling a little bad ass.
Today I biked 10 miles roundtrip to work, plus a couple of miles during lunch, plus a few more miles tonight to see the Decemberists play a live show (so good!). The rides were more stressful and obstacle-course-like than usual, especially when some [censored] honked at me, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Now what’s that news story about a groundhog seeing his shadow?
Luckily, all of these businesses had re-opened already. I opted to ride my bike, not from a sense of adventure, but because it made the most sense.
I wanted to get to a certain area and didn’t want to walk 3 miles roundtrip or deal with public transportation. The ride was fine. While the side streets are drowned in snow, the main routes have been plowed and cars were nice enough while going around me.
Pretty cool, right? I enjoyed my first blizzard. :)
Trisha’s post yesterday about the difficulty of riding in Nashville after snow has me thinking about the important role that city preparation and maintenance play in winter commuting. If streets are not cleared quickly after a storm, even a modest snowfall can ruin several bike commuting days.
Southern cities are getting more wintry weather this year than they’re equipped to handle. I heard on the news that Atlanta has 8 snow plows; in contrast, Chicago has hundreds. I assume road salt is in similarly limited supply.
Without salt and plows, Trisha has to walk her bike over large icy patches in Nashville
On top of this, Southern bicyclists are likewise less equipped to handle the weather, as there’s usually not enough snow to justify purchasing snow tires or studded tires. This results in more of Trisha’s commutes in Nashville being thwarted than mine in Chicago, despite the much greater snow totals in Chicago. You can see this happen with Bike Skirt Elisa’s commute in Alabama, too.
Meanwhile, this week in Chicago, I took one day off bicycling when the snow was actively falling on Tuesday. The next day, after 5 inches of snow, all but the small side roads had been cleared of snow and ice. Plus, to handle any surprises, I have studded tires.
Streets are reasonably clear a day after a Chicago snowstorm
Unfortunately, the bike lanes are still a complete mess, which is something the city needs to work on improving, but at least I could ride in the main lanes safely.
Unfortunately, bike lanes are mostly ignored in the snow-clearing process
Therefore, it seems like so far this winter, snow and ice have been more problematic for bicyclists in the South than in areas to the north that regularly get snow.
Of course, I have not forgotten about the crazy blizzard action going on around New York and New England. How long does it take after one foot of snow falls before roads are reasonably clear for bicycling?
And for everyone else, feel free to leave a comment stating your location and how well your city has been dealing with wintry weather this year.
I must say a few words about a post on Copenhagenize that ruffled my feathers. I’m a huge fan of Copenhaganize, but the internet is all about criticizing people for every little imperfection, so I’m taking issue with one small part of one post in the Copenhaganize archive. The post is called “Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen” and starts out nice enough until this part:
“And no bicycle studs were harmed in the making of this blogpost. I never see them here and wouldn’t possibly know where to buy them.
When you have as much urban cycling experience as the people of Copenhagen or a city like Amsterdam, you are pretty much trained to cycle in any weather. I’ll just let my fellow citizens do the talking…”
He then shows numerous photos of Copenhageners riding along in the snow, a beautiful and inspirational sight. However, look closely and you will notice that every picture shows the bicyclists physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.
Photo (c) Mikael Colville-Andersen
May I submit that the use of studded tires by people like, ahem, me has a lot to do with the high risk of serious injury that comes with a slip? As in, if I were to slip on ice during my work commute, it is more likely than not that a car, truck or SUV would immediately run me over.
I am not a fearmonger, but hundreds of huge, speeding vehicles pass me within a couple of feet every day. I have a good idea of what would happen if I were to fall beside one of them. A lot of my cycling friends in Chicago feel okay riding without studs, but I prefer the peace of mind that comes with them, along with the ability to ride on any day and any route, regardless of the weather or the city’s thoroughness in plowing.
My bicycle route: unprotected bike lane full of ice, directly next to heavy car and truck traffic
A calm part of my bicycle route, where unfortunately SUVs love to squeeze by me
Moreover, cycling experience does not prevent one from slipping on ice. I have lifelong experience walking, but I still slip and slide on icy sidewalks. Ice is slippery. Mikael himself has acknowledged “some slip-sliding moments and fishtailing” while riding his cargo bike in the snow. Sure, I don’t mind slip-sliding or even falling when I’m on the lakefront bike path, but a cavalier attitude about such is not advisable when sharing the lanes with cars.
I’m certainly not telling everyone to buy studded tires or advocating for laws requiring their use or creating stickers announcing “you’d look studlier in studded tires.” But in defense of those who use studded tires, I’m pretty sure such use is not based on lack of urban cycling skills or the general inferiority of goofy non-Danes.