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Enjoying bicycle ride on snow, for casual commuter

For quite a long time, I used to think that riding a bicycle on snow is, while not strictly impossible, something extreme, like walking on the rope or trapeze act. Most of my bike riding is leisurely commuting over the flat streets of Zagreb, and I almost never go of the paved surfaces. I am 47 years old, and dexterity or sense of balance are by no means my strong points. Anyway, I was intrigued when few cyclist with much more experience told me that they commute even when there is snow.

So I decided to give it a try, and .. whoha!

Not only that it can be done, but it is in fact quite often fun, and very nice experience. There are risk of course, but I would say that for many types of snow surfaces, it is often easier to avoid falling from bicycle than from your own feet (ok, falling from the bicycle could have more serious consequences).

If you do not have experience of driving on off road and slippery terrain like me, but you would like to give it a snow try, here are some tips:

Bicycle, clothing

Fatter tyres with deeper profiles are better. Tyres with studs are way better on icy surface. Mine are Schwalbe Marathon Winter, 37x622. When driving on the snow, you are probably not going to break speed records, so take into account that you will be generating less internal heat. But do not over dress either, so that you sweat too much or fill stiff or restricted in your clothes. Taking an extra pair of gloves in case primary ones get wet is not a bad idea. Wear solid winter shoes with very good grip.

Before you sit on the bike

warm up properly, especially your back, shoulder and arms. If you are anything like me, your bike will slip from time to time, and until you get some hang of it, your body will be reacting with sudden panic movements originating from your back.

First ride, where and when.

Ideally choose a flat route that you know, free of other vehicles and pedestrians, with hard and even surface covered with 5-8 cm of fresh snow. Riding on such road should be easy-peasy, since wheel will be cutting almost completely through it, and you will be grinning all the way. Keyword here is even surface and fresh snow, uneven surface or semi melted or semi frozen snow will complicate things.

Mounting dismounting

It sounds funny, but for me, mounting or dismounting the bike seem to be among the moves having the largest risk of falling. You have to balance on one foot on the slippery surface and swing your other leg. So try to find good, flat, not to slippery surface to mount and dismount, and do it carefully. Also this is the point where your solid winter shoes should come handy.

When riding

Be soft. Be very soft. Move yourself a little to the back and make sure that you are not heavily leaning on your hands. Your hands should not be stiff, but light and free to react quickly and with good control. Try to avoid panic responses when something throws you off course and respond quickly but with moderation. Concentrate on the surface before you, and try to spot troubling spots ahead of you. It takes some time to find a good speed. Generally you will not be moving fast, but it is important that you strike a good balance. Some speed helps you to cut through uneven terrain, but too much speed will not give you time to react when something throws you off balance. Also take into account that stopping will take more time and space.

Kinds of snow

What kinds of snow, say you, they are all white right? Wrong. Structure of the snow, underlying surface, all influence how will you get over it. The very same part of the road could become from very easy into very difficult in half an hour by some melting/freezing going on. The snow that was strong enough to support you would be collapsing under you, or snow that you were cutting through with ease will be now stiff like rock and throwing you in all directions. Learning to recognize, and read the properties of path in front of you will take some time, but also make the whole process interesting for a long time.

As general rule of the thumb, avoid surfaces that are under angle, since your wheel will not be able to support you like it does in normal conditions. Ice is fine, especially if you have studded tyres. Just try to avoid mounting and dismounting Narrow paths made by people walking can be very tricky since their profile is very often like a peak of a mountain, so you are constantly thrown left or right.

Closing remarks

Remember that pushing your bike over troubling section is always an option. If you do not feel secure, dismount and walk.

Now go out and enjoy some snow!

Posted by rush at 18 January 2013, 4:13 pm with tags bicycle link