Four Things I Forgot about Winter Bike Commuting (In Eight Short Months)

Today I did my first official slippery-road, snow-coming-down, winter-is-here, denial-is-no-longer-an-option commute of the season.

I’ve been thinking about winter commuting in the abstract; from a blogging point of view. I’ve been thinking, Yeah, yeah. Every other bike blog is going to do the obligatory series of posts on winter bike commuting; regurgitating the same how-to’s from previous years. I suppose I will have to as well.

In fact, I’ve already published our first post on the subject (“Sucking it up in Winter“) and I was happy to let a guest blogger kick things off, because I had nothing new to say.

I know how to winter commute by bike. And anyone who wants to learn can easily find the information. What’s the point of writing and publishing redundant articles when the old articles are perfectly good, and only a Google away?

Then came yesterday’s snow storm here in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Cyclist in Snow
Photo: Arizona Daily Sun

No, that’s not me. The way you can tell it’s not me is that he was prepared.

Things I Forgot about Winter Bike CommutingThis morning I got my mountain bike out of mothballs. It still had the studded snow tires on it from last winter, which means that I haven’t been on this poor neglected bike in about eight months.

First, let me list the few things that I got right:

  1. I pumped up the tires to less than their full PSI limit, to about 45 PSI, so that they’d have a little extra grip and squish to them.
  2. I lubed the chain and derailleur, and knocked off the cobwebs.
  3. I wore gloves, and a couple of layers under my Showers Pass jacket — but just enough layers that I felt a little chilly standing still, knowing that cycling would warm me up.
  4. Thick wool socks.

The ride to work was fine. It wasn’t snowing, but there was a blanket of snow on the ground and the roads were a little icy.

All day, sitting on my butt at a desk I was thinking, This winter stuff doesn’t even phase me. I’m the editor of Commute by Goddamn Bike — not that that makes me hero or anything.

About 5:00 PM, my wife called an offered me a ride home. The bike carrier rack was on our car. I turned her down. You drive in your climate-controlled coffin, woman! I have no need for such things!

Things I Forgot about Winter Bike Commuting
Snow: 1, Blinky Light: 0

Finally, it was time to   go. It was snowing again. And it was getting dark — which is a great segue to the list of things I’ve forgotten since last winter.

  1. It gets dark early, stupid.
    For all my talk of lighty-light-light, Bike Tech Shop, and so on, I didn’t think to transfer any lights to my bike in the morning. Furthermore, given where I work, I have bike lights stacked up all around me. Nah. I’ll be fine. I turned on the anemic little blinky lights that are built into my Lazer helmet, and headed into the night.
  2. My tires are studded, but my shoes are not.
    In less than a block, I found myself slowing to a stop at a red light. The studded tires were doing fine. I put down my right foot and, Whoah! Who would have expected ice on the road! And the shoes I was wearing? Skateboard shoes. Nice flat, non-treaded soles. Not what you want on your foot when you need to stabilize yourself on ice. (Why does a man in his 40s wear skateboarding shoes? Another time.)
  3. Water ceases to be frozen above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
    This handy science fact explained the cold, wet sensation on my legs and feet. I was wearing jeans and the aforementioned non-waterproof shoes. Both were soaked before I’d gone a quarter of a mile.
  4. Snow is made of tiny little razor sharp ice crystals.
    Exactly the kind of stuff you don’t want flying into your eyes and face at any speed. I have a nice balaclava and some racquetball goggles for keeping these ice knives from stabbing my corneas. Those items were left at home this morning.
Four Things I Forgot about Winter Bike Commuting (In Eight Short Months)
Home safe — in spite of everything

So I only forgot four things. Not bad, right?

I suppose the lesson here is that it’s good to use a checklist when you haven’t done something in awhile — even if you fancy yourself an expert.

Put another way: Just because it was covered last year, doesn’t mean it’s remembered, fool.

So until we publish our next shiny, new, not-at-all-redundant article on winter bike commuting, allow me to regurgitate:

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