When the Rubber Hits the Ice

Saturday Oct. 2nd, 2010

As autumn’s crisp morning air sets in and stirs the blood while you furiously pedal to warm up, the thought enters one’s head that this is one of the most exhilarating times of year to be on a bike. The colors stimulate the eye as well as the soul and nothing fills you with energy as the commute on two wheels. The seasons have changed and winter’s cold breath tingles the senses. Mittens are a must as the cold bites a little deeper than before. It’s time to start thinking about the ice and snow that lie ahead, whether it’s next month or next week.

For the die-hards, winter is just a speed bump in the year’s cycling season. Most of us shake our head in wonder and amazement when we see them puffing clouds of steam along side the road as we cruise by in our warm vehicles, sipping mugs of this year’s trendiest brew. But they brave the snow, ice, wind and frostbite to discover a piece of life that mocha and all-wheel-drive will never see. To them we raise a salute. To them we shiver in sympathy. To them we also pay extra attention. The following is dedicated to the safe passage of our cycling community in these bitter northern climes.

A few tips for those who have the courage to continue biking this upcoming season:

Helmet and Gloves A no-brainer on the brain-bucket. Could save your life. Gloves will not only warm but prevent the road rash that a slight slip on the ice may cause. Haven’t yet tried hockey gloves…

Headlight, taillight and reflectors are extremely important. It gets dark very early this time of year and most people end up commuting home long after the sun has set. Make sure yours are working and adjusted properly.

Good tires, perhaps even studded tires, are very helpful when the conditions deteriorate. Those tires that you’ve put off replacing are probably going to slide better than freshly waxed skis. Get some traction. Pre-made studded tires are an option, or you can make them yourself. Talk to the guys at the local bike shop. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t hibernate during winter…

Double your braking distance, as well as others’. Even if there isn’t any visible snow, ice, or sand, cyclists should try to anticipate stopping far ahead of what is normal. Just because your path is clear, that doesn’t mean the cross-street is. Ice accumulates in the least-expected places. Be extremely cautious around any traffic or questionable terrain.

Your bike will respond differently in cold weather. Brake pads get harder and don’t stop you as easily. Shifters hesitate and react slower. Even the air pressure in your tires changes. Be sure to look over your bike more frequently to check for problems. Storing your bike outside makes this especially important as ice build-up and other harmful weathering is much more probable.

Consider your route carefully. As the snow and ice pile up, roads, paths, and sidewalks get narrower. Often enough, they are even completely blocked off. Traffic may get much closer and you are exposed to much greater danger on a bike. If you have the option of taking a longer but less-travelled route, please do so and leave a little earlier.

Use a thicker, more weather-resistant lube to keep your drive-train oiled and in good working condition. This will also help prevent damage to the chain and gears. Be certain, though, to keep it clean of road grime. It will accumulate more easily during the winter and make the bike much more inefficient and problematic.

Locks get cold, too. The drop in temperatures and any build-up of ice will cause bike locks to freeze, jam-up, and be a general nuisance. Keep bikes inside if possible. Despite the cold, bikes are still common targets for theft.

Bozeman is a very bike-oriented town. No matter the season or weather, many cyclists are to be seen on the roads. Winter is no exception. For those of us with four wheels: please pay attention and be especially considerate during this season. For those two-wheelers: take all the proper precautions and never assume that the traffic around you is in control. We all have a responsibility to be aware of the changes winter brings to our daily commute and road conditions. The snow doesn’t just affect when the lifts open. So while you watch the snow start to creep down the mountains and consider warming up the iron to put a fresh layer of wax on your boards, don’t forget to give your other ride the attention it deserves. In more ways than one: Ride On.

Brian Menkhaus is the owner and manager of the Bike Peddler, this article was written with references from the article All-Season Biking by Ethan Higgins.