Snow biking, Thurs 8 Dec 2016

As I have probably said a bajillion times on this blog, Portland/west of Cascades winter tends to be mild (highs in the 40’s/4-10C) and damp. We don’t get a lot of cold and dry, and we get little actual snow. While this is good for certain things (rare freezes mean you can grow some things in the middle of winter) maybe it’s still the East Coaster buried deep down inside me that needs S-N-O-W to make me think its winter. And we don’t really get much snow here, maybe a light snow or two throughout the season. Generally at best we’ll get an inch or three and it’ll be gone in a day. In my fifteen years here, we’ve only had significant snow storms three times: January 2004, December 2008, and February 2014. All of them five winters apart, so that means the next big one will be the winter of 2019, right?

Anyways, this week the temperature dropped down to near freezing and we had a few nice and sunny, but dry, windy, and cold days here. The right recipe for snow when the inevitable precipitation rolls back in. And we were prepared, as the National Weather Service announced a Winter Storm Warning early Wednesday for Thursday. I would be returning to work Thursday afternoon, so I watched and waited to see how the weather would play out. Y’see, working in hospitality, we are open every day, regardless of holidays or weather. I would need to get to the hostel by 3pm. Would I be able to bike, or have to ride the lumbering sled known as the bus? I could possibly ride if it’s just snow, but didn’t feel like it if it was ice.

The snow started in earnest around 10 am, just some flurries. By noon, though, it had picked up and it was sticking. But it was just snow, no ice or rain. And since it had been dry the past few days, I knew there wouldn’t be hidden ice under the snow. So I made the call to bike in! And why not? I get jealous of watching other people’s snow bike adventures. This was barely anything.

But what bike? I don’t have any fat bikes, but I do have three bikes with at least 26″ x 2.0″ tires.* I do have a studded tire I could throw on the front of one of them, but mounting studded tires is a lot of work, and the ice/snow would be gone by Friday night. (I always tell myself it would be nice to have that dedicated snow/ice commuter for when it does happen, but it happens so infrequently I never get around to it.) While the Bantam has disc brakes, the best stopping power for conditions like that, the front brake needs work (hence me not riding it the last month or so.) Plus, the Rat Trap Pass tires have no tread whatsoever, so it would be nice to ride with something.** The Crested Butte has cantilever brakes, good enough, plus the Conti Retro Ride have a little bit of tread, so I went with that. As a precaution, I lowered the pressure to about 30 psi.

Around 1:30 pm I was off! I was bundled up pretty good, with mittens, alpaca/wool socks, wool baselayers, wool pants, down jacket, rain jacket, wool hat, scarf, and goggles. Yep, I have a pair of Kroop bicycling goggles that I rarely use, but blowing snow and a stiff head wind made them highly useful! I think I overdressed a bit, as the first mile or so is uphill. (This is the problem with weather like this, since I deal with it so little, I don’t always remember the best way to dress.) After the uphill segment I was fine as it came to warmth.

The riding conditions were OK, better than I had hoped. While I don’t want to be a panicky “Oh my god oh my god” snow biker, I  also didn’t want to get over-confident in my snow biking ability. So I stuck to side streets where I could cut a track on the fresh snow (about 1 to 2 inches.) The tire tracks were fine, too, but I tried to avoid them as I didn’t want to slip on a packed spot. There wasn’t that many cars out there (the local school districts cancelled school in preparation for the storm, and many businesses either called it a snow day or sent people home early.) I did see some bike tire tracks and caught a few glimpses of other cyclists. There were a good deal of people walking, esp. with their dogs.

I made it to work in one piece. No falls, I only slid a teeny bit once when I started from a stop. Even the 21st Avenue viaduct was okay to ride over. However, now (9:30 pm Thursday night) the snow has stopped, and with some rain/sleet, everything is glazed over. But that’s okay, as I’m not going to bike home. In fact, I’m going to walk to my friends house to crash for the night, as they only live a few blocks from the hostel. (And I do have those gripper things for my shoes, so I don’t have to worry much about slipping and falling.) In the morning, I’ll walk back to work and ride home, as by afternoon the snow and ice should be a fading memory.

So I got to play snow biker for a day. And while I know this is nothing compared to winter in Duluth, it is fun to do this every once in awhile. I don’t know if I will move to a snowy climate, but it’s nice to know that I could probably pull snow biking off. I think! 🙂

*Yeah, I could have probably gotten by OK with my Raleigh Superbe with its 26″ x 1 3/8″ tires, but might as well go with the fattest tire possible for a day like today. Maybe next time

**I should have a set of true mountain bike tires stored away for conditions like this, yet.

5 thoughts on “Snow biking, Thurs 8 Dec 2016

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  1. So cool to see snow in PDX. And yeah, I hear you when you’re concerned about ice because it’s too easy to slip and break bones. I rode in today after a light dusting last night, but I was careful in key spots, treading very lightly. It took me 10 minutes longer than usual and I was dressed to the nines: balaclava, double layered tights, down coat.

  2. That’s great you got out in the snow. One of the many things I enjoy about winter riding is the “thinkering” (*) it takes. So much to think through. What to wear, what equipment works best for the current conditions, what tires, what brakes. I love this kind of problem solving and then seeing it work and getting to where I need to go safely.

    *I borrowed this word from Mike Curiak.

  3. Yup, us former New Englanders just laugh at the “typical” PNWers and their idea of snow. As you already saw, I had a blast putzing around my neighborhood yesterday. The fat bike was a total blast.

    1. While snow’s here are usually not big, the main issue is that the window for “actual snow enjoyment” is pretty short. It didn’t take long before everything iced over yesterday. And ice is no fun!

  4. Good on ya for snow riding, we had a similar “dusting” up north in Seattle with the snow starting after 8pm I could have probably tooled around the mostly deserted street on my bike but chose to walk and soak up the falling snow, the fresh slate it presents and the quiet. I do enjoy our mild climate but its nice to get a bit of white stuff every once in a while

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