Snow biking: Is that even safe?!

40 MPH Winds. Wind chill of -10°F. Ice, slush and snow. A great morning for a bike ride.

A local inflammatory blogger was quick to point out that cyclists who ride in the snow may be one text message away from being mowed down by inattentive motorists.

The truth is that motorists are usually white-knuckled and scared in the snow. They drive slower and are more likely to actually be paying attention. Fear not, bike commuters! Suit up, don the snow goggles, crank up your brightest blinkenlights and go for a ride! I’d advise you to stay off the major arterials, though, and practice your bike handling, braking, and OH S*** WIPEOUT skills in the snow before you wander too far. Just in case.

17 Comments

  1. Michael Hartford December 9, 2009 9:40 am 

    I had a pretty intense ride home through St. Paul, MN, last night, mostly because the bike lane was a snow drift and a few drivers felt they needed to beat me to the red light (one even passed me on the right in the parking lane). I decided to sit it out on the bus this morning and give the road crews a chance to clean things up a bit.

    Cold doesn’t bother me, and I’m happy to bike in the rain or while the snow is coming down, but I’m all for letting the plows do a little beautifying before I ride. (I feel the same in a car: if the bus goes where I want to go, I’ll let the professionals drive until the streets are plowed.)

    Hoping that tomorrow will be a little clearer so I can get back on the bike–I didn’t get snow tires just to park it in the garage!

  2. db December 9, 2009 9:46 am 

    Oh man, 1 frickin’ degree today, wind chill = -5. Ice on the roads — not from melting/freezing, but from snow being packed down by traffic.

    Everything worked like it was supposed to, except my footwear. Lost feeling in my toes in 25 min., and had to deal with them regaining that feeling 20 min. later at the office.

    My next attempt will include the Neos overshoes that Elizabeth mentioned in a previous post. Hope they can keep the cold air from penetrating to my feet.

    Studded snow tires: why did I ever think they were an “unnecessary” expense?

  3. mike December 9, 2009 10:02 am 

    Just watch out for the black ice. I’ve found myself flying across intersections that I thought were pavement only to find they were just packed black ice.

    & I’ve found that feet can go numb for an hour & still be fine.

  4. David December 9, 2009 10:53 am 

    Winter has finally arrived in Buffalo and I tried studded tires for the first time a few days ago. They are absolutely awesome. The traction across ice is terrific.

    That said, I take the bus when the weather is super crappy like today (rain, snow, sleet, rain, snow).

  5. Elizabeth December 9, 2009 11:27 am 

    @Noah… Chicago is supposedly getting all those winds and drifting snow this afternoon/evening, along with those cold wind chills.

    My snow tires have not arrive and I stick to the plowed arterials. But I still find that drivers are very scary – too unpredictable and still chattering/texting away on the cell phones.

  6. RL Policar December 9, 2009 11:35 am 

    aye you guys are crazy. the closest feeling I can say riding in snow (I’ve done it a few times) is like riding in sand, but slippery.

  7. Iron_Man December 9, 2009 12:18 pm 

    Temps in the teens this morning with wind gusts of 35 mph (mostly a crosswind for my commute). It was awesome. Some pedestrian crossed in front of me, looked up with incredulity and said “That HAS to be cold!” He was balding, wearing no hat, a chintzy trench coat, and dress shoes and dress slacks. I felt like saying “Well unlike you I’m actually dressed properly.” But the light had changed and I needed to go.

  8. Ghost Rider December 9, 2009 1:54 pm 

    I, um…had to dodge a couple of small puddles and faced the brunt of some 15 MPH gusts of warm, wet air blowing off the Gulf of Mexico on my way to work today.

    My hat’s off to the winter warriors! Riding in snow can be a blast — but it has been so long since I’ve done so that I may be romanticizing it in my mind.

  9. Noah December 9, 2009 1:56 pm 

    Nah. It’s still a blast.

  10. Mark December 9, 2009 6:27 pm 

    Am I imagining it or is your water bottle full of some blue liquid? Is that anti-freeze? I once saw a caption on a bike that said that the water bottle was full of anti-freeze. I couldn’t tell if it was sarcastic. Now I am dying to know why someone would cart around such a decidedly toxic substance.

  11. Ghost Rider December 9, 2009 6:47 pm 

    @Mark. Polar Bottle (http://www.polarbottle.com/) , not antifreeze. Keeps the stuff from hardening into an undrinkeable block (and keeps hot drinks warmish in cold weather).

  12. Robert December 9, 2009 7:12 pm 

    I pretty much called it quits for commuting this winter. I rode from March until late November quite regularly into work. This is year two of biking into work and I saved a lot on gas….enough to buy cold weather gear. I have been hearing a lot of tips on biking, but it seems mostly from city folks. I do have a few questions:

    If you have to leave your bike parked outside at work for about 10 hours a day, how do you keep it from freezing?

    City biking is one thing, but I am having a hard time fathoming riding on moderate traffic country roads with no shoulders and open fields nearby. I have a hard enough time seeing in my car and maintaining control on poorly plowed roads, how would it be better on a bike? Any good advice?

    As far as I am concerned, it is just that it is December and most people are not out on bikes (motorcycles included). It is an unexpected surprise to people. Granted, living in the South may be an exception….but in the midwest, it is often a different story.

  13. Ron December 9, 2009 7:26 pm 

    Unfortunately, I still haven’t found the right “snow goggles.” Again this morning, my current snow goggles fogged up (with the requisite frost-up) in low-temperature weather, which ruined an otherwise wonderful ride in Kansas City snows. As Noah says, it’s a blast — except for the “equipment failures.”

  14. Noah December 9, 2009 7:41 pm 

    It’s an insulated bike bottle with a blue foil liner on the inside. That said, a fifty-proof beverage (25% alcohol by volume) will stay liquid to about -10*F and it will still hydrate you… but you’d be breakin’ the law! Breakin’ the law! And you’d also get wasted pretty quickly.

    Starting with room-temperature water and using an insulated bottle like this one can usually keep things liquid for the duration of my commute. And it’s legal.

  15. Lovely Bicycle! December 9, 2009 8:59 pm 

    What intimidates me about cycling in the snow, is that I don’t really have any wipe-out skillz. It only snowed once here in Boston so far, and I was sick on that day. Will see if I am up for it next time.

  16. rick December 10, 2009 4:52 am 

    Sixty MPH headwinds forced me onto the bus yesterday. If you don’t ride in the cold, especially the snow, you are really missing out on something. There is nothing else like it.

  17. Packy December 21, 2009 8:09 am 

    We don’t get that much snow here in Misery. But the ice is what is a real hazard. I can eventually get through the snow but the ice is different. I have DIY studs on the front and a mtb tire on the rear of a Xmart special MTB. Lots of clothing considerations are necessary for me. I carry most of what I need in a backpack or go to the insulated bibs from my locker at work if needed. I only commute five to seven miles to work and my uniform must be almost spotless. So the German surplus Goretex bibs help. I have a Garneau cover for my helmet but my daughter made ear covers that slip up over the chin straps like upside down gaitors. Ummmmm. Wool IS good. You guys and Noah helped me greatly by pushing wool. Thanks for the tips and God Bless you all. Packrattusnongratus.

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