Chicago had it’s first snowfall of the year yesterday. A few inches. But then it got quite cold and while roads were plowed and salted, the remaining water froze to ice. Since I have been biking all year and loving it, I wanted to keep the commute to work for as long as I can. I was a bit nervous about biking in the snow, so I decided to get up early this morning and bike to the grocery store, four blocks away. It was 14 degrees when I left. I was dressed well, so the cold wasn’t a concern at all. All I was worried about was the ice.
I live on a side street, so it gets plowed after all the main streets. It doesn’t have a ton of traffic, but it has enough that the snow gets compacted pretty quickly into ice. I started by taking the bike right out into the street and going very slowly. I had read someplace that when you’re on ice, putting your foot down usually is a very bad idea. So I rode really slowly because it was all ice until I got to Ashland. Since that’s a main street, it was completely clear and dry. I had no problems there. Normally though I wouldn’t ride on Ashland because it has a lot of traffic and people drive fast. But I was pretty sure that the side street I normally take was a sheet of ice, so Ashland seemed to be the better option. All was good until I got to the parking lot for the store. Again, a sheet of ice. Fortunately, there was hardly any traffic out, so I could take my time and the whole road to make my turn. So I made it there and back ok, but I wouldn’t ride in that to work. Mainly because on a weekday morning, there’s much more traffic around and I wouldn’t feel safe at all.
The good news is that I should be able to use my own street as a gauge. If it’s clear, the ride in should be fine. If it’s icy, I probably shouldn’t take the bike. The temperature only comes into play when it gets cold enough that the salt won’t melt the ice. That’s right around 15 degrees I think. So if it’s colder than that, I’ll check for ice. If not, I should be ok.
I also just finished this book called Frostbike by Tom Babin. He’s a guy who lives is Calgary who wanted to continue biking year round. He went all over the world to find places where people do and don’t bike in the winter and why. It was very interesting. But the main thing that I took away from it is that, like all things, it’s all about your attitude. We’ve pretty much demonized winter so that all we do is complain about it. This is stupid. If you live in a northern climate, winter has always been around. What’s the point of complaining about it? He also gave some good backup data to my new favorite saying (which is not in the book), “There is no inappropriate weather, there’s only inappropriate clothing.” I had actually been thinking that I want to take advantage of winter this year. I had been ice skating past winters and really liked it. I’d like to do that more and even just go out for a nightly walk in the cold. That’s one of the things that I love about biking anytime…being in touch with the weather.