Monday, January 18, 2010


For those outside of Omaha, we've had extremely dense fog for the past few days. Coupled to this have been temperatures below freezing. These conditions were ripe to create icy driveways, sidewalks and side streets.

Given the hazardous conditions, I opted to take the bus to work. Since the forecast called for warmer temperatures in the afternoon, I brought the bike along in hopes of riding home in the evening.

But as it was, I was short on time and decided to ride the bike the short distance to the bus stop. I reasoned that a couple of blocks with one turn was a manageable distance. I mean, I've got decent winter bike handling skills, so why not?

Since I didn't want to spill hot coffee all over my hands (or other parts) I quickly replaced the empty water bottle from its cage with the recycled paper coffee cup. I compression-cinched the empty water bottle to the messenger bag, slung the bag over the shoulder and put the helmet on my head. Then I walked the bike down the sloppy, snow-caked driveway and mounted it on the street.

Things were fine until I attempted to make the 90° turn one block from the bus stop. I approached the turn with caution. I knew fully well that the risk of a wheel washout increased while shifting weight inward to turn a bicycle. This is especially true on a slick surface.

So I gingerly negotiated the turn and... WHAMO! In the blink of an eye, the wheels lost traction and I crashed. The Bike and I came down hard on the cold concrete, my right flank absorbing the heaviest blow. The impact launched the helmet across the street like a slapshot hockey puck. The messenger bag had jettisoned the empty water bottle to a snow bank. Even the coffee cup was bounced from the water bottle cage, coming to a rest upended a few feet from the bike.

I jumped up right away. All was good. Aside from a thrown chain, the bike was fine, too.

As I went about gathering the goods from my impromptu yard sale, a car pulled up along side. The driver rolled down the window to ask if I was ok. I assured him that I was fine and thanked him for stopping. I stooped to pick up the upside-down coffee cup and was delighted to find coffee still in it. Mmmm coffee. While I wiped the salty brine from the lid and took a deep draw, the driver asked again, this time including the detail about seeing my helmet skid across the road. My thoughts raced. The coffee was hot and good. I was confounded how this little paper cup and lid remained intact, yet my helmet had not. I reassured the driver that I was fine and thanked him for stopping once more. As he drove away, I took another gulp and pondered.

Let's back up a few paragraphs. Skip the part about me acting like a professional cyclist giving a clinic on how to negotiate an icy corner. No, above that. The part about the helmet. Notice that I said that I put the helmet on my head. Well, that's all I did. I neglected to actually click-lock the chin strap.

What a knucklehead.

Later that morning I instant messaged a fellow cyclist. Here's the transcript

WSCG... Not riding today
Wes J...Yeah, I am thinking it is awful foggy
WSCG... that + freezing fog
WSCG... I crashed riding to catch the bus this morning.
Wes J...Are you OK from the spill?
WSCG... yeah - slight bruise on glute, but otherwise 100%.Total yard sale (threw water bottle, messenger bag and unclipped helmet popped off). 
WSCG... I dropped my coffee too. It was upside down when I picked it up. The lid saved the day. I still drank the coffee.
WSCG... Yes, I was stupid on the unclipped helmet. I was in a rush. Like cars, most accidents happen within a short distance from home
Wes J...It takes less then a second to clip the helmet! Do I need to bring my helmet from my crash as a reminder?
WSCG... yes
WSCG... But the coffee lid stayed on and it wasn't clipped.
Wes J...Next time wear a coffee lid on your head then

Well put, Wes J. I both needed and deserved that.

As a safety reminder, I have zip-tied a coffee lid to my helmet. I won't be making that foolish mistake again.


  1. Nice touch on that last picture.

    Why are you not running studded tires? Sheesh ;-)

  2. Thanks for the alert, Brady, and I'm glad you're relatively unharmed. I've been real tempted to switch my front wheel back to a regular 32C slick tire, but after your post, I think I'll stick to keeping the front wheel, um, stuck to the ground.

    I have a spare 35C studded tire if you want to run that on the front of your bike. I've found that's about all you really need as the weight of your body keeps the rear tire pretty glued to the road. At least it has for me.

    I'm also a believer that knobby cyclocross tires (or knobbies on a mtb) are worse in these type of conditions than slick road tires. With any type of ice, the more contact patch you have, the better your chances of maintaining grip on the surface. Knobs are meant to sink into a surface, which does not happen on slick roads. I'm still trying to wrap my head around how metal studs overcome this issue, but it works. I feel pretty sure footed with my current setup of 35C studded tire on front, 32C slick on back. Again, let me know if you want to give my spare tire a try.

    Yes! Another Munson run-on response...

  3. oh crap, here we go again with the skinny vs knobby tire debate.

    @biker_bob - I don't run studs because I have perfectly good cross tires. And since Munson's resurrected a dead thread, skinny ones too

  4. "perfectly good cross tires"... Are these the same perfectly good cross tires that were in use during this less than optimal right turn event? ;-)

  5. my take is somewhere between
    sometimes ideas go a BIT TOO FAR

    I fully applaud and laud the winter riding & think the paved gravel roads were a great idea.

    I haven't taken my bike out here in the permafront specifically for the black ice/side street risk. I have spent 10 hours on the trainer so far in January, but have watched:
    -O Brother Where Art Thou
    -Role Models
    -Donnie Darko
    -A bit of Casino Royale.

    Your mother's prayers trumped your unbuckling your helmet!

  6. Is there a physicist who can settle this issue once and for all?

    1) How does a smooth rubber tire outperform a knobby tire on ice?

    2) Now explain how a studded knobby tire performs better than a smooth rubber tire on ice.

    @murphini Amen, brother -- Mom's prayers have not gone unheard. Speaking of guardian angels, I watched Angels and Demons while on the rollers this past weekend. See? I use my brain (sometimes).

  7. Feel free to start applying that brain here.

  8. i don't run studs because i'm a cheap bastard and 32/35 work okay for me...

  9. I hope Munson is just giving you a hard time, I gotta believe this is the case.

    Anyway, I hear that if you wrap wire around your tire you can avoid this my creating a makeshift studded tire. I haven't tried it yet, but as soon as I get some wire I'm all over it.

    Good O'l Shim

  10. Studs!

    Get the Nokians. They will last multiple seasons. You won't regret it.

    Heck, to prove it to you, I'll let you borrow mine for a couple of days and I'll ride the bus.

    This morning I was fearfully timid to walk down my steps and sidewalk on the glaze. I couldn't wait to mount the bike, where I felt secure in the ice biting qualities of my tires.

  11. I'm sorry Brady to open a can of freezing worms again. I should clarify when I go babbling on about nothing - most of what I say is nowhere near the gospel. Take it with an iceberg's worth of salt.

    I rode in at 10:30 today and there was only a couple slick spots left. The only way I could tell is because my rear slick tire slipped around. My front studded tire was just fine.

    I would follow Scott's advice, he's ridden through more of this stuff than I have since I wuss out and take the bus often. My offer still stands to lend you my spare studded tire if you want.

  12. @scottredd & @MunsonedinOmaha - I'm considering borrowing. Thanks for the offer.

    Of course, besides Ol' Shim stealing my Dad's thunder re: wrapping one's tire with wire, there's the homemade solution, too. See bottom of this page.

  13. One of the neighborhood kids made a set of those studs like 35 years ago on his bmx bike. We took turns racing it around a frozen pond against the clock until falling and hitting my head on the ice. (Of course this was well before they invented the paper coffee cup lid), so I ended up unconscious and had to be carried back to my parents house. We fell hard and we liked it, we liked it a lot, we didn't need no stinkin fancy coffee cup lid, we got concussions and went back and did it again and thats the way it was.

  14. Shim, that little tale explains so much. Thank you for having the courage to share.

  15. Brady, preventing the unlatched helmet should be the focus here - you can't always draw from your Mom's prayer bank. I propose a small solar panel on the helmet that would power a tiny chip, like those found on talking greeting cards, inside the webbing headband. When the helmet is put on, the depressed chip would play "Boomer Sooner" until latched. Oops, no sunshine in Omaha in the winter. Back to the drawing board. 'Ol Dad

  16. Yeeeessssssss!

    See you at lunch tomorrow.