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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 01-09-11, 12:26 PM   #1
JaclynMcKewan
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Biking in the Snow - Dangerous?

I live in a suburb of Buffalo and have been commuting to work (2.7 miles away) several times a week during spring, summer and fall. In reading some of the threads in this forum, and other websites, books and blogs about being car-free, I'm tempted.

I put my bike away at the end of November when snow first hit the ground, and will bring it out once it's mostly melted, probably March. I have plans to buy a Workcycles Oma this summer, which will allow me to bike in the rain (with the help of a raincoat) and have been toying with the idea of biking next winter too. I've read about how you can get studded tires to help when there is snow or ice on the ground.

My husband is strongly against the idea. Granted, he can't force me not to, but he's told me that he would not want me riding in the snow because he'd be concerned for my safety. I'd of course want his support if I were to do this, and was wondering if anyone had any comments about the safety of riding in snow or ice with studded tires. In my area there are few bike lanes, and no bike lanes on my way to/from work, so I ride in the street. The streets aren't always plowed in a timely manner, and when a heavy snow hits, sometimes there is quite a bit of slush in the streets. He said he doesn't doubt my ability, but he is concerned about "the other idiots" that would be sharing the snowy road with me. Are his concerns valid?

I haven't made any decisions yet. I'm an incredible wimp when it comes to cold weather, and I'm not 100% sure I'd want to rely on bicycling and public transportation when it's below freezing with an even lower wind-chill. I'm so used to leaving a heated building and getting into a heated car. On the other hand, DH is always saying how I should try to get used to the cold weather instead of hiding from it. Maybe relying on a bike all year round is a way to do that.

We have plans to move to warmer climes sometime within the next 2 years. Maybe I should just wait until then. Still, the adventurous part of me wants to throw caution to the wind and go car free right now!

ETA: I suppose I wouldn't actually be car-free, since DH would still have his, which I could use if needed, so I guess I'd be "car lite." Still, I wouldn't plan to use his except in emergencies.

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Old 01-09-11, 01:11 PM   #2
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Some facts about winter cycling:
1. In some cases, particularly icy streets, a studded tire bicycle is safer than an all-season radial car.
2. You do need a backup plan for situations where there is more than about 3 inches of snow on the ground. Bus is one. Walk. Work from home might be another. Carpool. Share the family car... wherever...something.
3. Cold is unbearable until you get used to it. Learning to dress appropriately (ie, not overdress or underdress) is the key. Start riding in the fall and just keep riding.

Look up posts in the Winter Cycling from BF member TSL. He lives in Rochester NY and seems to endure similar winters to your own. There are a number of regular Toronto posters who have winter similar to your own... though maybe a bit less snow.

Also, please don't think of it as an all or nothing situation... unless you are really stuck. I started doing some winter cycling about 6 winters ago. For the first couple of winters, I cherry-picked my commute days. As time wore on, I found myself gradually increasing my bike travel days. I got studded tires 3 years ago and increased my travel days enormously.


Lastly, tell your husband to lighten up!!! Sitting in front of the TV watching hockey ( or worse...football) is far more dangerous to your health than winter cycling.
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Old 01-09-11, 01:20 PM   #3
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I'm sensing that this is really about convincing your husband that it's safe for you to cycle in the snow. You seem pretty confident about doing it.

We don't normally get snow at low altitudes here in Ireland but 2010 was the year of the snow and I cycled to work through snow during late Nov. and December without snow tyres/tires.

What you really need is some more anecdotal evidence from a bit closer to home to convince hubby.
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Old 01-09-11, 03:10 PM   #4
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Don't be such a girl. Riding in the winter is fun.
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Old 01-09-11, 03:56 PM   #5
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Wind is a big factor in riding comfortably in the winter. Sometimes it is just too strong when it's a headwind. That is the only problem I have because the snow doesn't get too deep and I ride on streets where cars flatten the snow.

Studded tires are needed for traction but they don't help you to get through deep snow. Why don't you just ride on some weekends and prove to hubby that it can be done. Then just extend it to riding to work. There are times I want to be in a motorized heated vehicle. If I had one I'd use it then.

Get fenders that extend far down the tires. Slush sticks to tires longer than water and gets flung forward. My short fenders work for water but my back and head get splattered with slush.
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Old 01-09-11, 04:06 PM   #6
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Riding a bike in the snow and ice is just as dangerous as walking or driving or any other means IMHO. Sure you might fall a couple of times at first but you get used to it and it becomes easier and easier the more you do it. I often can get around easier and fast than some cars in the deep snow.
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Old 01-09-11, 06:44 PM   #7
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I live in the city of Buffalo, and have been riding my bike this winter. Be sure to dress warm - especially the fingers, toes and face/neck. There aren't any bike lanes here in the city, but I haven't had much problem with unplowed streets. The slush is slippery, so if there is a lot, I try to let any cars pass, and then ride where the road is clear. I have really enjoyed riding this winter, and I like the challenge of it. (I don't have to ride every day, though) I am a girl too, and IMHO, most of the things/situations that many say are so dangerous, are really not as bad as they sound.
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Old 01-09-11, 07:51 PM   #8
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All I can say is don't base your decision on a worst case scenario(nobody says you have to ride during an epic snow-storm).
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Old 01-09-11, 08:27 PM   #9
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All I can say is don't base your decision on a worst case scenario(nobody says you have to ride during an epic snow-storm).
+1. Even if you decided you would travel by bike on only the best weather days, that would probably see you making 10-20 trips over the winter. That would be a tremendous accomplishment for a first year.

In fact, it would be an accomplishment for even some seasoned riders.
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Old 01-09-11, 09:56 PM   #10
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In our area it's common for snow-clearing to be a little slow. When you have a few inches of heavy slush and some idiot drives by 3ft away at 40mph it can throw up several pounds of slush moving pretty fast, which could scare you pretty badly or knock you down. At best you would get soaked unless you're wearing full rain gear.
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Old 01-10-11, 08:23 AM   #11
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I ride year round here in the Michigan Lake effect belt and have several entries on my blog about it. Most of the riding is on wet streets which have been plowed. This is the first year I have used studded tires (Nokian A10) and find them useful. You might like reading http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/, Dottie, the author rides year 'round in Chicago and writes about it daily. Reading it might put your husband's mind to rest also.

Marc
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Old 01-10-11, 09:06 AM   #12
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I'm in my fifth Rochester winter. Studded snow tires are a given here. Since your husband has no doubts about the equipment or your abilities, I'll address the "other idiots".

My commute is crosstown, through both gentrified and welfare neighborhoods. In the three-seasons I can use a lot of residential streets. In winter, the residential streets are the last to be cleared. I find that the four and six-lane arterials that I avoid most of the rest of the year are the best routes to travel in the first few days after a storm.

What happens with the "other idiots" is that the "balance of fear" changes in my favor. Drivers give me a wide berth because they become afraid of me. I'll repeat that--they become afraid of me. I don't know if they're afraid I'll fall in front of them, spilling their latté and damaging their bumper, or if they're afraid some snow-induced mental illness will rub off on them and they'll find themselves abandoning their cars.

Either way, in bad conditions and the improving ones a few days after, riding the main streets (including Main Street) is about as pleasant and safe as it could be. I can't speak for suburban roads and drivers, but that's how it works here in the city.
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Old 01-10-11, 09:58 AM   #13
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Tsl, I wonder if the drivers respect you more in harsh winter conditions rather than fear you. They might think you actually have a purpose, other than recreation, to be out there hindering them on your bike in winter.
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Old 01-10-11, 10:42 AM   #14
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No, I don't think so. Same bike (different tires), same lights, same panniers year 'round. The only difference is the snow. Cars will actually wait behind me until it's safe to pass, and when they do, I get much more room. In the nice weather, no matter what my lane position, there's always some dodo who tries to squeeze through somewhere. That just doesn't happen in the snow.

I really think they're afraid I'll fall in front of them and they'll run me over. I take fullest advantage of that fear.

The reason I say this is because everyone I encounter who hears I cycle through the winter, the first question they ask is "Don't you fall". "Don't you get cold?" is a distant second. That tells me they're afraid I'll fall in front of a car (possibly theirs.) Thus, the "balance of fear" is in my favor.

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Old 01-10-11, 11:35 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by JaclynMcKewan View Post
He said he doesn't doubt my ability, but he is concerned about "the other idiots" that would be sharing the snowy road with me. Are his concerns valid?
My wife shares the identical concerns, but she trusts my ability to deal with the "other idiots".

You might consider compromise - there are plenty of winter days when the roads are clear and dry or relatively clear and dry. You can start riding on those days (you can still use studded tires, which are more for ice than snow anyway) and perhaps on those days when there is just a dusting of snow - and accept a ride from him on the nasty days.
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Old 01-10-11, 01:13 PM   #16
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I used to be a cold weather wimp too. My advice is to acclimatize yourself to it gradually - its going to be hard jumping back in after two months off. If you never stop biking you don't have the sudden temperature drop. But the most important things IMO to keep warm are:
- ears, neck, hands, feet
You'll actually want to start with your torso a bit on the cool side because you'll heat up as you ride.

A thin balaclava that will fit under the helmet is great for cold days, a helmet cover can block the wind from getting through the vents, windproof gloves or mitts are awesome.

Start off by biking on clear roads on a clear day - then you only have to deal with the cold. You can then work up to seeing how you deal with slush and whatnot.

In Toronto the only times I didn't bike (had transit as backup) were freezing rain (a rarity) and thick unplowed snow (10 cm or more). At first I did not bike in a storm aftermath but then I figured out I didn't have to ride through the crud, I would just feel comfortable enough to take whatever road space was clear. (mirror helps a lot here)

The "other idiots" are mainly a concern with significant ice on the roads, or after the first major snowfall (when they all seem to forget how to drive). You should be able to bike the majority of days in the winter without having to worry too much about them.
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Old 01-10-11, 01:59 PM   #17
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The cold is very managable with head cover, good gloves and booties or goretex socks for feet and water proof/wind proof everything else. I find my base layer is damp with sweat no matter how cold it gets and I tend to err on the bit chilly side. The only part of me that ever really gets cold after -20 are the hands. A 3 mile commute in any temperature should be no problem.

semi-packed snow and tire ruts are a pain but only for a couple of days after a relatively heavy snowfall.

As tsl says. Drivers to give give a wider berth in snow. They don't want to catch whatever insanity we have.
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Old 01-10-11, 03:13 PM   #18
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Riding in the snow is dangerous. First you'll want studded tires and warmer gear. Then you'll want a dedicated winter bike, possibly with internal gear hub and disc brakes.

You're in danger of spending money.

You have a 2.7 miles commute? You can be car-free. That's easily bikeable in nearly any weather. You can always walk that distance if you really have to.
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Old 01-10-11, 06:07 PM   #19
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There aren't any bike lanes here in the city,.
There aren't many*. We have a disconnected spattering of bike lanes throughout the city. Richmond from North to West Ferry has a bike lane. Delaware from Forest to Nottingham has one, though IMHO it's ridiculously dangerous and one would be better off riding through the park. There's also one that goes along Marine Drive, to South Park. One block of Main St. has a bike lane. There's also a block's worth of bike lane near Front Park to take people to the Peace Bridge. I think that's it...

I don't think it gets cleared (I haven't checked since the snow began to fall), so probably useless for a few months, but there's also the Scajaquada bike path that begins in Delaware Park and snakes E to W through the city, and under the expressway to meet up with the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk goes from just south of the city to North Tonawanda.
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Old 01-10-11, 09:16 PM   #20
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"Dangerous" depends on the snow. After the streets have been plowed and all that is left is the hard-packed substrate, studded tires handle that well, almost like pavement. The plows leave little piles of mushy stuff, but if they are not too deep a bike can plow through them.

My spouse has used almost exactly the same words, about the "other idiots." I remind her that I stay off the main roads until they are bare pavement to the curbs, and take the side streets until then. As mentioned, main streets (at least here in Minnesota) usually are bare a couple days after a storm. The plows get most of it and the sun gets the rest.

As also noted, three miles is not a terrible distance to walk (although I do realize that you would have to do it twice).
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Old 01-11-11, 02:16 PM   #21
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In eight winters of commuting by bike to work, I wimped out and walked twice. Both times were due to heavy falling snow that interfered with my vision, and both times I ended up wishing I had ridden my bike. Riding (on studded tires) is much safer than walking, IMO.

I also happen to think that riding is safer than driving, although I have no proof. I do know that one time my son and I both travelled down the same side street on the same winter day. I made it safely; he ended up in a coma at the trauma center. I was riding my bike; he was driving.
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Old 01-15-11, 09:27 PM   #22
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