Here's a little video of what can be the most difficult kind of snow condition for bicycle commuting in winter. The snow that remains after a decent snowfall that doesn't quite justify sending out the plows can be tricky stuff when it has been driven on by only a few cars. When snow has been packed down by lots of cars or hasn't been driven over at all, it is relatively easy to ride on, unlike the aforementioned difficult stuff:
As you can see, a straight line is nearly impossible, at least for most people. It is, of course, even more difficult when the snow is deeper, but at least here in London Ontario the plows run and create some good riding streets when there is a little more snow than pictured in the video.
The purpose of this post is to be a good online resource for pointers on street riding in difficult winter road conditions. As such, this is an open invitation to winter riders to share what works for them on snow like this. Useful comments will be added to the main body of this post as they come in (if they come in).
To get the ball rolling, here are some pointers:
1) Eyes Up - It is natural to want to look at the snow that the front wheel is going to encounter and seek the best line. However, balance is improved by focusing on a point in the distance whenever possible.
2) Stay Loose - When the front wheel tries to slip one way or another, a common reaction is to tense the arms and shoulders and grip the bar tightly. Better control can be achieved by consciously relaxing the upper body and grip as much possible while still maintaining control of the bars. Resting the fingers on the brake levers helps to prevent a "panic grip".
3) Stay Put - If at all possible stay on the saddle even when trying to power through stuff. Rear traction pretty much goes away when standing.
4) Keep Pedaling - Keep those legs moving even when things get dicey and ride almost as fast as possible. A little momentum helps a lot in maintaining a line while the snow tries to knock the bike around.
5) Walk Sometimes - Walk the bike when necessary, including when cars are anywhere near and control is not 100%. It is not safe or fair to slip and slide around while vehicles are trying to overtake or when space is tight. It is OK to slip and slide down roads like these, but dismount or stop on the side for a moment to let cars go by when they approach. It is more safe, and will minimize the animosity drivers show toward winter cyclists in general. With this one it is not about whether one could proceed, but whether one should in that context.
6) Skip the Sidewalk - The sidewalk is a terrible waste of time and effort and is even more dangerous than in summer thanks to high snow banks, etc. The surface is also usually much worse thanks to foot traffic.
That's it for now. All should feel free to disagree or offer other helpful ideas like the following from the comments:
Big Oak adds: ...be prepared for varying snow and ice conditions on the road all at the same time. Sometimes the snow is loose and not frozen to the road, and right next to that there are frozen car tire tracks, and next to that might be perfect, unpacked snow. Thanks Big Oak!
Rollz adds: I read one time to try to hold a golf club like it was a baby bird and you don't want to crush it. I found this useful when riding streets like the one you were on in the video. I hold the bars light and put my massive weight back on the rear wheel. I also ride a MTB in winter. Thanks Rollz!
These bits are just excerpts. For everything these contributors had to say, check the comments.
Thanks for reading, and please slide on by any old time.