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?
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.
Ladies and gentlemen, my winter wheels are back! After choosing not to ride on Monday due to road conditions, I set out Tuesday morning enthusiastically, but my enthusiasm was short-lived.
The edges of the streets and the bike lanes were still full of slush, forcing me to take the lane. The rising sun created massive glares on the wet roads and snow, making it hard for me to see and surely hard for drivers to see me.
I almost turned around to ride back home, but instead I turned on a shady side street with less sun but more slush. Half-way to work, I decided to drop Oma off at Dutch Bike Chicago to have her studded tires put on. The shop wasn’t open yet, so I locked her up, dropped the key through the mail slot and left them a message. Today I dropped off the studded tires and then picked up modified-Oma after work (Thanks to the shop manager Vince! You can read about his own studded tire transition here.)
Finally! My cycling confidence is back and the ride home was wonderful!
I felt totally confident on my two wheels, even riding through the icy slush. Although I likely would have been perfectly fine riding without studded tires, I am miserable the whole time if I’m stressing about slipping.
Drivers were especially careful around me, possibly afraid I would slip in front of them (they don’t know about my studs) but whatever keeps them cautious is fine with me. I smiled and laughed the whole time, in response to my Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcast (yay, WBEZ Chicago!). As a cherry on top, I went by a man riding something like a WorkCycles Fr8 with a kid on back and we dinged bells at each other.
This is going to be a good winter, now that I have my wheels back. Who’s with me? :)
Here is a secret to winter bike commuting: it’s not that bad. If you look closely at the individual days that make up winter, you’ll see that most of them are pretty nice. Sure, sometimes the windchill is -20 and sometimes a foot of snow falls, but the time between the extreme days is perfectly fine for bike commuting.
It’s that time of year again: legions of bike commuters are gearing up for winter and considering whether to buy studded tires. Well, okay, maybe just five or six of you.
So should you get studded tires?
I asked myself that question for weeks last year. My dithering abruptly ended on the morning my bike slipped from under me and I landed on my butt.
Many winter cyclists in Chicago seem to go without studs, sticking to the major routes that are well-plowed, but I prefer side street and the Lakefront Trail, which are often icy. Also, I appreciate having one less worry for winter cycling. Freedom from paranoia is a good reason to get studded tires.