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Winter Cycling Don't let snow and ice discourage you this winter. The key element to year-round cycling is proper attire! Check out this winter cycling forum to chat with other ice bike fanatics.

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Old 11-20-08, 07:11 AM   #1
chico1st
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How to winter commute

How do you deal with a winter commute where all the snow from the roads gets piled into the bike lanes (very annoying)? Do you ride the side walks, on the road, 'offroad' in the snowy bike lane?

Thanks to you guys I am no longer scared of freezing in the winter, but I am scared of getting killed by other means.
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Old 11-20-08, 07:29 AM   #2
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lots of bright lights/reflective clothes and just ride in the road. Idealy closer to the center of the lane so cars are not tempted to squeze by you and its easier for cars to see you.

Its really not as bad as it sounds riding in the road, just make yourself visable.
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Old 11-20-08, 08:33 AM   #3
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You'll do fine, but prepare yourself mentally. Winter riding isn't the same animal as a joyful summer road ride. Look at it as a challenge: expect the trip to take longer, expect to have to walk or dab your foot on impassable sections. Hone your technical skills in the slippery stuff and learn "the feel" different types of snow conditions (because they're all different). It's invigorating. Have fun.
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Old 11-20-08, 09:54 AM   #4
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How do you deal with a winter commute where all the snow from the roads gets piled into the bike lanes (very annoying)?
Bike lanes? What's a bike lane?

Yeah, the lanes get narrower, so I move inward a bit. I also Fred right up with a hi-viz road crew (not cycling) jacket. My routing changes a bit in the winter too. I actually take more main roads in winter since side streets are generally icy ruts.
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Old 11-20-08, 10:01 AM   #5
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^^ Yup.

Generally, the worse it is the more likely I am to just blend right in with traffic and take the right tire track. At that point it's rare for cars to go faster than I am, but if I'm holding up the line I will move aside where possible much like an RV should on a mountain road.

Some winter advice:

Allow more time. Winter weather makes the clock move faster and you move slower.

Always carry an extra layer, and if it's quite cold, something to immediately put on if you have to stop to change a flat (like a puffy jacket and spare hat). You generate tremendous heat only while cycling.

Cars expect you even less. So you have to be more visible for longer distances in poorer visibility.
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Old 11-20-08, 10:03 AM   #6
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We don't have bike lanes here. If we did, that's where the snow would go anyway... I just ride normally. 3-7' from the curb, at least 3' out from parked cars, take the lane when necessary.
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Old 11-20-08, 10:04 AM   #7
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Yep, the snow on the side of the road can be a real problem.

I take the lane (within reason). I also wear a road crew reflective jacket. I have double or triple redundancy as far as lights go. I also have reflective striping on my gloves so my signals can be seen at night. Studded tyres are an option for real icy conditions.

One problem with riding at the edge of the road is that melt from the snow piles on the side of the road will usually wind up frozen at the edge of the lane. The cars will not take care of that, as they will for anything in the centre of the lane. So riding towards the centre of the lane is really much safer. I'm not all VC about it, though - if I find I'm holding up traffic a lot, I'll find a place to pull over when it's safe for me!!.
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Old 11-20-08, 10:13 AM   #8
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+10 on the tire track, makes snow riding much more bearable. I find the cars are much more forgiving the crappier the weather gets. Not sure if it's them being considerate of the poor basid on the bike or just extra fearful of running over someone that might slip and fall. Either way ... I'll take it. I've been know to pull over on some sections if it's just too sketchy with piled snow and rutted ice and wait for a clear spot in traffic. Worst case I'll sidewalk for half a block to clear the grossness. Pressure is on the City to do a better job plowing, as in consider winter cyclists. Losing 1.5-3 ft of curb lane in the winter bites it.
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Old 11-20-08, 02:30 PM   #9
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Bike lanes? What's a bike lane?

Yeah, the lanes get narrower, so I move inward a bit. I also Fred right up with a hi-viz road crew (not cycling) jacket. My routing changes a bit in the winter too. I actually take more main roads in winter since side streets are generally icy ruts.
+1 on all of the comments

Also learn your limits. The road crews here in Amherst NY (suburb of Buffalo) do a remarkably good job of plowing. Most of the time I can ride comfortable to the right of the white line, even if we got a foot of snow during the proceeding 12 hours. Normally lake effect snow here tapers off significantly around 5 or 6 in the morning, but not alway. There are days where the snow is coming down hard as my morning commute is about to start. On some of those days, it is better to be on 4 wheels than 2, so I'll take the car. Last year that only happenend a few times. If it looks like the roads are just not safe enough for a bike, then find alternate transporation. For those rare days I find it just not worth the risk.

Happy riding,
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Old 11-20-08, 06:13 PM   #10
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On my way to work there is a shared bike path that I ride on. And even though I leave for work at 7:45am there are always 2-3 bike trails on the path already so I just use them to guide the way. Trough my full 6km bike to work I am only ever riding on a main street for about 10 blocks. I like the side streets and off street trails because I just don't like riding in the middle of the road with traffic in the winter. When I drive my car even though I am a biker when I get stuck behind a biker going 15km/h I really get annoyed... So I try to avoid doing that to anyone else.
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Old 11-20-08, 08:03 PM   #11
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Bike lanes? What's a bike lane?
+1

I ride in the tire track closest to the snowpile.
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Old 11-20-08, 09:27 PM   #12
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depends on the type of snow

slushy: anywhere
slushy + plowed packed : tyre tracks
powder: on fresh snow
powder on packed: on fresh snow

well, you'll learn.
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Old 11-20-08, 11:55 PM   #13
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depends on the type of snow

slushy: anywhere
slushy + plowed packed : tyre tracks
powder: on fresh snow
powder on packed: on fresh snow

well, you'll learn.
We have an additional type of snow. It's unconsolidated snow mixed with pickled gravel/sand. Imagine wet sand, but with a much lighter consistency. It will hold you up if you ride/step on it, but only for an instant - just long enough to allow your wheel to get pushed in a slightly different direction than you are headed. It also lets your rear wheel fishtail easily. It floats freely on top of hardpacked snow, even when pressed down by the weight of something as heavy as a cement truck. It gets pushed into piles by cars and trucks, and these piles can be quite treacherous. Narrower tires will cut through reasonably well, but studded mtn bike tires will slide out. It is in this semi-solid state from -5C down to -20C. At warmer temperatures, the salt causes it to turn into slop and spray. At colder temperatures, it finally binds to the road or hardpacked snow and gives some traction.
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Old 11-21-08, 12:42 AM   #14
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We have an additional type of snow. It's unconsolidated snow mixed with pickled gravel/sand. Imagine wet sand, but with a much lighter consistency. It will hold you up if you ride/step on it, but only for an instant - just long enough to allow your wheel to get pushed in a slightly different direction than you are headed. It also lets your rear wheel fishtail easily. It floats freely on top of hardpacked snow, even when pressed down by the weight of something as heavy as a cement truck. It gets pushed into piles by cars and trucks, and these piles can be quite treacherous. Narrower tires will cut through reasonably well, but studded mtn bike tires will slide out. It is in this semi-solid state from -5C down to -20C. At warmer temperatures, the salt causes it to turn into slop and spray. At colder temperatures, it finally binds to the road or hardpacked snow and gives some traction.
Yes ... I've noticed that stuff here in Alberta. It's like the city crews just keep building up more and more layes of the stuff. Coupled with the fact that Red Deer and Edmonton (not sure about Calgary and other areas of Alberta) have no idea how to clear the streets, and cycling can be quite treacherous.

In Winnipeg, most of the time they cleared right to the pavement. So it could be -40, and there could be huge mountains of snow on either side of the road, but the part where I wanted to ride would be bare and dry. Even if there was a blizzard, a few days later the roads would be bare and dry again. I didn't really appreciate the street clearing crews there until I moved here!
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Old 11-21-08, 12:47 AM   #15
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the best tip for riding on winter, is to wear some synthetic fabric closest to you, then your cotton shirt, or whatever you feel like on top.

That really makes a huge difference in body temperature, and not getting cold/hot during and after the ride.

as for the Bike lanes, or the lack of such.... it's never been a problem for me, since my bike lanes has always been overrun by damn parked cars / trucks

i've always been forced to ride on the road, as any other vehicle, and since cars / trucks don't mind, well it works out well for everybody i guess

today icey / snowy ride was fun, but slippery even with studded tires.
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Old 11-21-08, 08:47 AM   #16
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I've been know to pull over on some sections if it's just too sketchy with piled snow and rutted ice and wait for a clear spot in traffic. Worst case I'll sidewalk for half a block to clear the grossness.
I do that too! Much easier and safer than wrestling with ruts of unknown hardness, especially in front of 40 km/h traffic in bustling downtown Toronto.

This thread is like a Canada party. I love it. \o/
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Old 11-21-08, 08:54 AM   #17
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I think in that we had a hella winter last year... it seems the city crews are already being miserly with the salt, at least in the core. We should have had salt out on that first snow fall. Yea that weird snow/salt soup that acts like a semi solid is the weirdest stuff of all. I LOVE it when it's -20 and colder, when you get that high pitched squeak when you walk on the snow. You can ride across the park full tilt riding on top of the snow. I love heading down near the lake and seeing the steam coming off the water. Winter in Canada kicks butt, and we cyclists kick butt for being out in it.
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Old 11-21-08, 09:12 AM   #18
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I think in that we had a hella winter last year... it seems the city crews are already being miserly with the salt, at least in the core. We should have had salt out on that first snow fall. Yea that weird snow/salt soup that acts like a semi solid is the weirdest stuff of all. I LOVE it when it's -20 and colder, when you get that high pitched squeak when you walk on the snow. You can ride across the park full tilt riding on top of the snow. I love heading down near the lake and seeing the steam coming off the water. Winter in Canada kicks butt, and we cyclists kick butt for being out in it.
I have also noticed very little salt in the core compared to the last few years.. but then, we just got the first big dump. We'll see, I guess.

The semi-solid snow ("chocolate mousse") is killer. Coming home last night I had to skid my rear wheel thorough it around a corner and over a streetcar track to avoid falling in front of a school bus. The problem I have personally is that it's basically impossible for me to gauge the traction I'll get, and switching lanes, moving over, or pulling off the road is not always an option in packed traffic with parked cars to the right of me. It's certainly bringing back the handling skills from last year.

The best way I've found to take control of the situation is to keep applying power and stay as upright as possible, only using the brakes if necessary and even then, only the rear brake. Then the feet if it gets real bad.
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Old 11-21-08, 09:38 AM   #19
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It was the front brake on the ride home in the first snowfall that brought me down like a sac of sand. That and a bit of cyclist profiling on my part that went awry. You'd never know I've been riding all year for over twenty years from the other night. Doofus mistake on my part. Usually the City falls over itself to over salt everything when the first snow is coming to prevent half the city end from having accidents from EVERYONE having forgotten what winter driving was.

I don't mind the mousse nearly as much as the little oddly shaped bumps of solid ice that occupy the curb lane like landmines. Hit one of those the wrong way.......

I my knobbied MTB in the winter.
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Old 11-21-08, 10:25 AM   #20
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How do you deal with a winter commute where all the snow from the roads gets piled into the bike lanes (very annoying)? Do you ride the side walks, on the road, 'offroad' in the snowy bike lane?
Great suggestions so far.
One minor point; don't ever attempt to ride the sidewalks. For a new winter rider, it may 'look' tempting to get off the road away from traffic, and it's relatively snow free, but drivers are distracted and do not think to look there. They'll turn into you, or pull out in front of you. It's an accident waiting to happen.
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Old 11-21-08, 10:35 AM   #21
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mmm I'll have to disagree.... in the winter is the ONLY time I'll even consider the sidewalk. Not to cross intersections but to avoid evil ice ponds or strips of death on badly maintained sections of roadway. I've got a couple half block sections I rarely avoid when it's über crappy. Generally noone walking there, and I'll enter the roadway as if I was ...well, entering the roadway, in that it's my responsibility to make it happens safely.
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Old 11-21-08, 10:35 AM   #22
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Where I am (Boston) the sidewalks are the last place you want to ride in the winter (or at any time, for that matter). While the roads are cleared very quickly, the sidewalks are largely ignored. You may have stretches where they are clear, but then you get to a driveway, and there's a pile of snow right across the sidewalk. There's also a lot of ice buildup. I find walking on the sidewalks to be very hazardous once there's been any snow, and I don't ever want to try riding on them.

Yes, I know that residents are responsible for their bit of sidewalk, but even when they do clear the snow, their interpretation of 'their bit' of sidewalk is lax enough to leave quite a bit of uncleared pavement. The only sidewalks that are well cleared are those in commercial zones, and the foot traffic makes those places really bad (and illegal, in most cases) to ride.

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Old 11-21-08, 10:39 AM   #23
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Montreal's sidewalks are a nightmare, Toronto's are gorgeous. I only mention sidewalks as a possible option due to potentially deadly lack of space on the roadway due to extra snow/ice. I've had to climb over snowbanks on a couple occasions to reach safety as the road had gotten too sketchy for sharing, and taking the lane wasn't an option at that point. I generally do not recommend or condone sidewalk riding by adults.
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Old 11-21-08, 11:07 AM   #24
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andrelam is in Amherst, I'm riding from Tonawanda right into downtown Buffalo and the travel will vary between burbs and city.
Most of my route is two lanes so I'll take the inside lane, so even if the city hasn't done the greatest plowing I'm usually left alone becasue there is enough lane for me and the cars don't want to travel in that narrow lane.
And same here, I live to ride again, so if it's that bad I don't risk it because the next day usually turns out to be great.
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