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Monday, January 11, 2010

Snowy Street Riding - A Pointers Page

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.



R A N T W I C K

9 comments:

Big Oak said...

About the most difficult riding I've encountered is what you've described - snow has been packed down by a few cars, but is not frozen to the road. It has a very light brown color to it, and I try to avoid that.

The stay loose thing is what I have trouble with. After even a few miles on snow and ice, my forearms ache from squeezing the handle bars. I have drop bars on my bike and I don't know if flat bars would make any difference.

The last thing I would add is to 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.

Bottom line, be CAREFUL!

Wish I had something to disagree with you - you had such a nice invitation there near the end. But you did a good job. Keep your tires down and your saddle up!

Rantwick said...

Thanks Big Oak!
I'm ptetty sure it was you who wrote a little about this kind of snow a few weeks ago. I thought more on the subject wouldn't hurt.

Rollz said...

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. Other than that you nailed it.

Chandra said...

Perhaps, unlike many, I learned to drive at an older age (around 25). One of my teachers taught me not to micro-adjust the steering by looking at what is a few meters ahead of me and look further ahead and that helped out a great deal (or at least I like to think it did). I wholeheartedly agree on your pointer numero uno.

Pointer numero two-oh that you got is also a great one. I had to kinda follow that in learning to rollerblade and ice-skate.

You got some great pointer, Rantwick!

Stay warm and be safe out there!

Peace :)

Jeremy said...

It's even more annoying as a pedestrian when people either fail to keep sidewalks clear or create giant mounds of snow on the sidewalk. Plus, nobody ever shows any consideration for keeping the curb cuts clear at intersections and other crosswalks (except parts of New York City, which pays volunteers to shovel out ramps and drains).

cafiend said...

Tip #5 is also commendably diplomatic.

Rantwick said...

Jeremy - I couldn't agree more. I really sympathize with sidewalk users in winter.

Rantwick said...

Cafiend - Yes, for a "rant"wick, I sure try to be nice... hmm.

cafiend said...

It's because you realize you come out better in the end as a teachwick. But that doesn't make nearly as good a blog title. ;-)

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