Monday, December 22, 2008

Breaking the Ice

Enough is enough - time to break the ice on this thing.

Although it was -8°F this morning, I read Redd-Shift's blog and became inspired to commute into work by bicycle.

As a new cycling commuter, Scott has fully embraced the commuting by bike lifestyle. Over the past year, he not only purchased his first bicycle as an adult, but has steadily added equipment and clothing as the nights have gotten longer and colder. I got to hand it to him, if he can do it, just about anyone can.

Over the past few years, I've slowly chipped away at my cycling discomfort zone. And so with Redd-shift's inspiration and repeating the mantra, "You can do it!" (think Schwarzenegger), I peddled the Nishiki Project into the snot-freezing cold this morning.

Having never ridden a road bike in the snow, I was surprised how much traction the 27 1/4 slicks mounted to the rail car wheelset got on packed powder streets. I imagine that it also helped having the panniers over the back wheel for extra weight. Perhaps I'll bungee a $3 sandbag back there too next time. Here's what I've learned so far:

How to Survive a Commute by Bike at -8°F
1) Wear layered clothing* & Ski goggles when snowing or < 10°F
2) Avoid riding in snow or slush during rush hour
3) Pick the safest route possible if roads have snow/slush/ice
4) When possible, avoid brown stuff (slush). Use low gear for power
5) Be vigilant about bumps and potholes
6) Allow for extra braking distance; go slow on downhills.
7) Maintain straight lines as much as possible; ease through turns
8) Be extra cautious while sharing the road in snow or slush

*For the record: beneath helmet, I wore a skull cap and PI balaclava, ski goggles, craft thermal top, long sleeve tech shirt, woolie, full shell wind breaker, glove liners and PI Lobsters, Craft thermal leggings, amfib bibs, a pair of smart wool socks, mountain shoes and amfib booties. The toes were the only uncomfortable point.

Thankfully, I managed to make it to work without an incident. Keep on riding - You caan do eeeeet!


  1. Great going herr Murphy. If I was working, I'd have a fun ride to report. But alas, I took 2 weeks off of work. I should get out there anyway. Well, now that it's above extremely dangerous windchill temperatures, I actually can get out there.

  2. OK boys the Bears and Packers are playing in shorts and jerseys (no sleeves)in four degrees as I write this. There is your new challenge.

  3. Thanks Brady. I do have some personality traits (for better or for worse) that keep me going and motivated. I'll post something about that later.

    Thanks to you and the other Omaha commuters for the localized advice and encouragement. It's nice to know there's a community of bike-to-work commuters who can help each other, especially the newbies, with information, encouragement, and advice.

    Glad to hear the Nishiki worked out well for you. I never tried my bike on the slick stuff without the studded tires, so I can't really compare. I'm profiting from the peace of mind, knowing the studs are there and giving extra traction.

    You might consider an extra rear flasher, maybe something really bright like the Planet Bike Super Flash. At -8 and snow in the "virtual bike lanes", the cars need a little extra help seeing you. I saw a loser the other day driving with a 3 inch by 12 inch patch of clear glass on an otherwise snow covered windshield... talking on the cellphone.

    I think I'm still overdoing it on the layers. I'm just paranoid about chilling. Today was another nine layer day. I know that sounds crazy, but the layers are super thin.

    I tried no goggles on the way home, but it was too bad on the eyes, so I pulled over and put them on. Again, I rode home without the glasses. Good thing I did, too. It started snowing after a few minutes. A KC commuter's blog recommends a product called Cat Crap for anti-fog. I might raid the litter box tomorrow morning and give it a try (just kidding).

  4. Good job guys. I'm inspired by your cold weather adventures. Too bad I'm off work till next year ;-). I'll dust off the bike in January. ;-)

  5. I must digress with a comment I hear from Brady and my wife too often: "Is that the best use of your time?"

    It is great to embrace the livestyle.
    I am always up for a challenge like that
    You the man.
    I heartly endorse snow riding on weekends or when you maybe don't have to be anywhere at any time.
    I love snow riding on my mtb on the trails here in KC. We've done it at night and chased deer with our headlamps--but we were off the road on a trail.

    But, now that you've done it, great. Is it the best idea for dangerous road conditions where nut-jobs are driving their SUV's thinking they are impervious to ice/snow? Maybe not. Ride the bus and live to ride another day.

    Just my 2cents.

  6. Murphini - I agree that it truly wasn't a good use of my time. In fact, with the lack of trails to ride, it's reckless. While I appreciate stretching the comfort zone and learning skills to ride in bad conditions, I don't trust the nut jobs that share the road. That being said, I won't be commuting by bike in the snow again, at least not downtown during rush hour.

    So, from henceforth, if the ground is snow/slush/ice, then I'll be taking the bus. Else, look for me riding the dry streets at 4°F wearing shorts and a Bears jersey.

  7. I published "Breaking the Ice" before riding home last night. Admittedly, the ride to work in the daylight with relatively clean streets was a lot safer than the dark and snowy commute home during rush hour. For instance, I've got decent bike handling skills, yet I nearly dumped the bike in traffic after hitting a hidden bump in slushy snow at 15th and Farnam. It was because of this that I revisited the blog with edit #5: Be vigilant about bumps and potholes! This might explain the blog's enthusiasm while the comment section expresses caution.

    Finally, every time I see a "No Turn On Red", I'm reminded how stupid some drivers can be. Add snow, bald tires, cell phones and a frosted window with a 3 x 12 cleared patch for the witless driver to see through and I become paranoid. Or is that paranoia a residual from past mind control experiments? :-)

  8. Yeah, without a dedicated bike path, that's close to insanity. But that's not to say I've never done the same.

    Panniers actually do wonders, as you've found out. So does a 35lb early 90s GT mountain bike. The Tequesta, aka 'Zubaz', did a great job on that kind of stuff. Maybe the Karakoram can be your SUB?

    You also mentioned your toes were cold. My suggestion to you (and to anyone riding in freezing conditions is to ditch the clip-in pedals for some old-school pedal & basket pedals. In all of my winter commuting in 2005-2006, and all my winter road riding for that matter, I *never* found a way to keep my feet warm when clipped in to any type of modern pedal. The cleat acts as a heat sink. Ditch the cleated shoes, throw on some runners, put the neoprene booties on over those, then pedal away with your feet nice and toasty warm.

    It's mentioned somewhere in Jill Homer's blog somewhere, and is kind of detailed in her NPR posting. She also has some good snow riding tips.

  9. Thanks for that post and redirects to Jill Homer. Good stuff there on cold weather gear.

    My GT Karkoram might yet find new life for such extreme days. It's already got the old school platform and baskets on it. I'm curious to see the difference running shoes and booties has at that temp.