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So much going on in Chicago lately… namely, it seems that winter has (finally) arrived. (Note: you will hear no complaints from this bike commuter about the mild weather and temperatures in the 40s and 50s these past few weeks…) From a few headline searches, Chicago isn’t alone in bracing for winter’s impact.

First snowy bike commute of the season

Now apparently Chicago is just gearing itself up for a true Winter Bike to Work Day this coming Friday.

As noted on the Active Transportation Alliance‘s event webpage:
Enjoy coffee and tea from Caribou and Cheesecake from Eli’s 6:30 to 9 a.m.

The first 50 bike commuters who come by the event can choose from either a free bike light or a free balaclava. Everyone who stops by can enter a raffle for a folding bike.

Winter Bike to Work Day takes place on Jan. 20, the 27th anniversary of Chicago’s coldest day, when the official temperature at O’Hare International Airport was 27 degrees below zero.

Last Thursday the city of Chicago experienced the first significant snowfall of this winter cycling season and today flurries lingered but did not accumulate. For the next few days, more so than snow, Chicagoans face the bitter cold temperatures with “real feel” temps hovering in the single digits! If you’re lucky, the windchill will just barely keep the temperatures above freezing for your commutes in on Wednesday morning.

Snow Bike - Fat Tires and Disc Brake


In anticipation of winter’s arrival, I have been lent a snow bike to test out. Last Thursday I put the snow bike to the test and she performed, especially for the ride home on Thursday over the snow covered streets.

Double-wide "fat" tires + braking power


The double-wide fat tires on this puppy – though not studded – did keep me feeling more stable on two wheels. Unfortunately such a downhill bike does not come with fender mounts, so I popped on a mudguard for spray from the underside and a rear clip-on fender to the seatpost. This bike’s front disc brakes assured me that I would have stopping power when I needed it. Neither the tires nor the brakes let me down. Unfortunately, I think the brakes need adjustment as I could notably feel resistance in the wheel that kept it from spinning freely. Still – in the wintry bike commuting conditions of last Thursday night’s ride, I certainly wasn’t riding anywhere fast.

The bike cops that were out patrolling acknowledged me with a smile and a nod; I think we were equally impressed to see each other out on the roads that evening.

The roads in Chicago are usually pretty well plowed and salted, as was the main east-west street I take leaving work. Salt riddled its damp pavement. But then I turned northbound; the rest of the way home I navigated my way north on mostly snow-packed roads. This type of snow was the slippery kind that makes it hard to gain traction and the roads were such that all of the road had already been driven over and packed down; these roads were some of the worst road conditions I’ve ever encountered on a commute for that much of my route. Luckily, there were few cars on the roads. I just tried to steer clear of the fish-tailing cabs.

The snow bike plowed through and I stayed upright til the end. The end of my journey through a couple blocks of side streets really tested my bike handling skills. I even had a cab following me and worried that much more about falling over into his path. To my surprise, he never honked and kept a safe distance, giving me room to navigate and fishtail now too. (What goes around comes around – from following a fishtailing cab, to a cab following me as I fishtailed.)

At long last I made it home and had to haul up the bike to my apartment. At that moment I realized the heft a front disc brake adds to the bike; I like to think that the added front-end weight helped in my snowy journey. For the final trip up my steps, however, it added to the inconvenience factor of using such a bike on a regular basis.

Today weather forecasters predicted possible snow accumulations of 1″-2″ but only a dusting of flurries stuck to the pavement. For today’s adventure, I put the Green Machine back to work, more than a full month later than it was called into action last winter season.

The Green Machine

With no knobby tires (yet), the Green Machine offers much less rolling resistance, with all the stability of a mountain bike for anticipated snowy commutes. The biggest drawback so far to the Green Machine remains her lack of a full front end fender (due to the full suspension fork):

No full front fender mounts on the Green Machine

Tomorrow I may add MTB Barmitts to the Green Machine to add further buffering from the windchills. Up until now, my REI mittens have served me well, but do not allow full dexterity for grip and brake controls.

Mittens protect my hands on the harshest of days

(On a side note: last Thursday I had carried a secondary glove set-up in the rear pocket of my cycling jacket. In that pocket I had stashed my wind barrier lobster cover gloves, just in case my big mitts proved to be too much for the conditions. I also had my camera in my back pocket for easy access. During one of my reaches into the pocket for my camera, I must have caused one of my gloves to fall out of my pocket. I arrived at work and was cleaning off my jacket and discovered I was missing a glove. Also in the ordeal, I got my camera wet and it is now at the camera “doctor” so my photos may be sparse for a while. On my commute home I tried to find my glove, but too much snow and darkness made the search difficult. Friday morning I followed my same route and paused at the same locations where I’d taken photos the previous morning. The plows had clearly passed through overnight. Lo and behold – along the curb at my second stop there it was – my lost glove! It lay there in a crumpled up heap of soppy slush and suffered only a couple of knicks from the plows but it survived! Sorry, folks, no photo of the discovery.)

Tonight’s commute home wasn’t so bad. The challenge was mainly in breathing; in the cold temps I pull up a buff over my nose and mouth which keeps the air warm and moist but still doesn’t solve the runny nose dilemma. I had pulled down the buff entirely by the end of my commute.

Still I arrived home refreshed and breathed a hefty “Ah..” in the crisp night air. I glanced up and to my amazement saw clear skies and a sky above full of twinkling stars and some visible constellations. For a city gal, seeing stars from my place is a treat.. and it’s one reason I do enjoy the crisp and clean (dare I say refreshing?) cold winter air. I love the clear wintry night skies!
(I’m still not much of a fan of snow!). :-)

A special thanks to my coworker for snapping the photos of the Green Machine you see in this post.