17 December, 2010

VO's Snow Commuters

I want to congratulate the three members of the VO staff who continue to commute by bike even when it snows. They are Robert, Collin, and Alec.  I have to admit that I never liked riding in snow, especially after a painful crash on a patch of ice years ago. So I have nothing but admiration for this hardy bunch.

BTW, Robert gets double kudos because he won his first cyclo-cross race last weekend. And Alec does ride in those sandals.

Anyone else bike commute all winter in snow country? Have any tips to share?

Also, there are a few new items on our specials page.


Dan said...

Do I spy a beef gravy brown Crosscheck under Alec? I've been riding mine most days through our snowy Chicago winter, though mine is not quite as nicely appointed.

Gunnar Berg said...

We only have one auto, which my wife uses, as she still works. I'm retired so I don't really commute, other than a run to the cafe for breakfast or lunch. I live in Minnesota, so some times I would say it isn't really feasible, but Doug does it anyway:

bicycletorch said...

My only tip for riding through winter (currently resident of St Paul, MN) is that it can be done. You don't need a bunch of special equipment. I rode for 10 years with my old mountain bike, various winter boots, and lots of layers. Winter riding isn't for everyone, but anyone can do it if they want to.

david said...

montana commuter here:

snow commuting tip: lower your saddle a couple of inches so you can plant those feet in a jiffy, should the occasion arise.

also, balaclavas.

Anonymous said...

Can we have some info on their set-ups? Thanks.

Ian Dickson said...

If you're going to ride when it's -25F, as I did last week, be sure that the front of your pants is adequately windproof.

Tom said...

Collin gets the award for commuting from Baltimore to Annapolis. A good portion is via Bus, but still- thats dedication.

shane said...

i commuted all through college at the university of minnesota, even when i lived off-campus. i rode a beat up specialized hard rock.

my advice is the same as bicycletorch. i wore a huuuge hooded jacket. i couldn't imagine a better piece of gear. you can basically make it so you aren't cold at all.

also, i suggest an upright style of riding so you'll be able to bail easier and with less damage.

Quadmod said...

Couple tips for winter commuting:
Barmits or pogies, something to cover the bar, makes a world of difference in keeping hands warm and handlebar/levers dry.

Redundancy on headlights and taillights. You never no when one's going to fail, and when it does the other can get you home.

Commuting year round in Utah, http://www.flickr.com/photos/quadmod/5178510369/

halfstep said...

Geez, you guys look like you have more snow than we do. North of the border that is.

Alec said...

Dan: Yep, it's a Crosscheck. I like to say that it can do anything, but it can't do anything well.

Anon: that's a great question! What would you like to know? Lemme know! I can do a short component list I guess..

I'm on a crosscheck with Diagonale front rim and Mavic A719 rear rim, Prototype VO Dynamo Hub, and SRAM i-9 gear hub drivetrain 22"-80". VO Model 3 Saddle and Uno Seatpost. Really old steel North Roads bars flipped with VO Leather tape and Tektro R100a levers. Pasela TG 700x35 tires. VO Metallic Braided cable housing. Prototype Grand Cru Cantilever brakes. Nitto M-18 rack front, cheapo aluminum rear, axiom panniers. VO Zeppelin Fenders. MKS Lambda Pedals

Robert's beautiful blue machine is one that he made in Doug Fattic's class. It's got lugs and all that - a classical randonneur bike with Titanium VO Saddle that he's been testing, acorn boxy bag, indexed shimano barcons, white industries crank, VO Leather bar tape, Panaracer Col de la Vie 650b Tires. big hammered fenders. Sanyo Dynamo hub, PB light & some kind of tactical flashlight. clicky pedals.

Colin's Green Speedster is a Specialized Alleize Sport. I think he's got conti gatorskins or 4-seasons or something, most of a shimano 600 group, VO Leather bar tape Tektro R559 brakes I think.
also a vo Model 3 saddle. Toe Clips

Anonymous said...

wool and leather
more then never,
(my winter saying)

a front studded will help you not fall. It can be fun slippin' in the back.

a coaster brake only bike is it if you want to never touch the thing during the whole season, minus a flat of course

an old AW 3SPD is THE set up for having brakes, but doing a little maintenance.


weather said...

weather maps from Global Forecast System


Anonymous said...

I enjoy very much winter commuting, first in State College, PA, now in Breda, Netherlands. Tons of snow and ice in both places!

For me the key thing is a set of Nokian A10 Hakkapelitta tires w/ 72 carbide studs. Gotta have them! I fell a few weeks ago when only the front one was studded.

I ride a Bianchi San Jose with neat VO parts like the seat post and fenders.

Spencer Salmon said...

In North Dakota it is icey, windy, and flat. I use a semi custom road/touring bike with studed tires. I wear a wind blocking jacket and some mountaineering gloves. It is dark at 7 am and dark by 4:30 so lights are very important.

Anonymous said...

I ride all year long up here in Ottawa Canada. A few key pieces of advice:
1. cover your head excessively (balaclava and hood under helmet with taped-over vents)--if your head is cold, your body will stop sending blood to your feet and hands.
2. wear a reflective vest and bright lights...they'll keep you alive when you invariably need to ride in the dark.
3. index shifting stops working almost instantly....if you use a derailler, make sure that your shifters are friction or can become friction in a snap.
4. wear ski googles--they fog less than glasses and keep the cold wind out of your eyes.
5. keep a small bottle of tri-flow and lock de-icer in your bag. The tri flow will lube and free up any rusted solid bike bits and the de-icer will help you open your frozen lock.
6. don't over-dress. If you're chilly, you'll be ok. if you get cold from sweat, you won't have any chance of warming up.

Allan Pollock

Anonymous said...

It doesn't really snow where I lived. But when I lived in Salt Lake City, I commuted year round, and they get very deep snowfall at times. I used a steel mtn bike with knobbies. It was fun, and a better way to get around than any alternative. There were plenty of mornings when the only thing moving was me and the xcountryskiers. The small bit of exercise was enough (along with general outdoor clothes, fleece/shell etc.) to keep pretty comfortable in all temperatures.


Andrew said...

I'm in the U.P. of Michigan and am commuting through winter. The necessities for me?

1) Lights
2) Goggles
3) Balaclava
4) Boots
5) Wool in layers
6) Good tires (studded preferred)

Finally, I ride fixed in the winter. It's not necessary by any means, but when the rim brakes aren't stopping well with all the ice and snow I have another way to slow down.

ChrisS said...

I'm another MN bike commuter in a little river town called Faribault. I also have a gravy brown CrossCheck, but put it away for the Winter and break out an old Cannondale Hybrid (Silk Path) with a set of Nokian studded tires. I like the upright ride, and I don't worry about the salt on the Aluminum frame. The studs don't take away loose snow, but they really help on the hard pack and ice. Its all about dressing for the weather. Down to about 10 degrees I use a basic quilted wool coat and a pair of rain pants that are big enough that I can take them on and off over my boots and some ankle straps to keep them off the chain. A goose down parka for days that are any colder was a great investment. Heavy ski gloves are a must. I'm thinking a snowboard helmet and goggles may come next. About -30 the pawls in the freehub start to stick, so that's my current limit. I need to learn to rebuild a a hub. Maybe a summer project.

susie m. said...

No props until they make it through all of winter (cough, Perry made it through three blizzards, cough.)

Colin does, however, get a badge for commuting from Brawltimore. That is certainly merited.

- Susie

Eric said...

I don't mind the cold,but how do you guys deal with the cars? My big fear isn't me crashing it's a car loosing control and hitting me. The don't plow anything but the main part of the road which forces me out farther than I like to be.

Robert Linthicum said...

Gonzo to you all. Keep it up!

You don't need advice, but I am a fellow winter cycle commuter, so I would say my top tips are to get some of those Cabela's snowmobiling gloves, and some windproof underthings, so your underthings don't freeze.

Pack a headlamp that works (go Petzl) for "mending punctures", as they say around here, in pitch darkness.

Perry said...

Colin's bike is a Specialized Sirrus, but I think he's rockin his fabulous 650b Raleigh Portage now (jealous jealous jealous)

Uncle Ankle said...

Lights and reflectors and plenty of them.

Studs, some in the back, lots up front.

Front fender flap at least 2" wider than tires, almost touching the ground. saves chain, bb and feet.

Disc brakes, people; turn winter into spring, they really do.

God Jul!

Alec said...

Perry: Thanks for the correction on the model name of Colin's green bike. It is indeed a Sirrus.

Suzie: This is self-congradulation hour at VO - your doubts are not allowed.
I'm sure we'll all finish up the season just fine; Robert's done it around here before, and my old commute makes Maryland feel like Florida. I don't even have to wear real shoes in the "winter" here!

The Portage, though - Colin did take it home last week as the snow was falling. The machine was in very good condition, with the original black anodized rims showing evidence of perhaps two seconds' worth of braking on the rear and narry a scratch on the front.

...and deerheads everywhere.

Also jealous.

Alec said...

oh, and a winter century protip: keep your water bottles in your jersey pockets, even though you have bottle cages. Otherwise, they can freeze up solid in as little as 20 miles at 20F.

and you won't feel as thirsty, as you should, but drink it anyway.

ensure, and power-gato-hammer-ade and other drinks with lots of dissolved solids won't freeze as quickly, but they're not exactly suitable replacements for water...

redvic said...

only one tip: be the bike

EWong said...

Rode almost every work day last winter unless there was heavy snow on the road.
This year Im riding studded tires so I dont expect snow to keep me off the bike as much.

Working out a layering system has been a long work in progress.

Some hints
a) ride a tad cold - its better than damping out from sweat.
b) breathable is better than wind proof if you have to take a pick.
c) most soft shells are "too hot" in the sleeves unless they are cycling specific clothes (that have at least 1/4 of the enitre sleeve with a NON soft shell fabrich for breathability)
d) yes - you can cycle in 8" high boots - you wont set any speed records - but in snow and ice - moving slowly beats falling down anyways.
e) upright stance on the bike is safer for a whole host of reasons - its only unpleasant in a headwind.
f) I have found a single speed to be less problem prone for a 3+ mile city commute - even in the summer.
g) as sweaty as it sounds - a messagner bag allows better body english onthe bike in traffic.
h) headlight (light and motion Stella 300) has been a lifesaver. Not so much what I can see - but that cars (and jay walking pedestrians) can see ME.

jlvota said...

I commute through the winter in Central Illinois and my best tip is to get wide tires. I ride with 40mm Marathon Supremes and they are perfect. Best advice for rookies: rely heavily on your rear brakes when it is slick. If you lock your front wheel on ice, you are probably going down, but if you lock the rear you are good to go. I also ride a San Jose, and I have a fixed cog on the one side when the weather is too cold for the freewheel. If you don't have a fixed cog for backup, you can pour water over over a frozen freewheel to get it working for a few more miles and make it home.

As for studs, I have never needed them and I found that the smooth Marathons are better for me in the snow and ice than the knobbies on my 29er. Also, if it is really icy or you are slipping, let a few pounds of air out of your tires and it will help dramatically.

red22 said...

In the UK it normally doesn't snow much before Christmas. However, this year we've had two decades worth of snow in 2 weeks. So commuting in minus C degrees is a bit of a novelty. Yesterday I delivered Christmas cards and found silk gloves inside winter gloves and a merino wool vest kept me very cosy.

Studded tyres would be useful too but they're expensive and not easy to find.

Bonne route!


Gavin said...

I have used studded tires on and off for the past four years, but they can feel very heavy and slow. Last year my main winter bike was a fixie with cyclocross tires. In northern Utah/southern Idaho, I deal with more slush and packed snow than ice. My homebound commute is on roads than are usually pretty clear. I also incorporate transit a lot more in the winter, for safety. The studded tires are good for my wife's peace of mind, and for slick, icy mornings like today.

Anonymous said...

Commuting in the snow


Chris Whitehead said...

Studded tires do feel slow (another cyclist described it as like riding on velcro) but they help. Wool, balaclava, goggles, good lights, warm socks!

Anonymous said...

I used to bike in saskatchewan winters, but now live in the pacific northwest where it mostly just rains. Now I end up overdressing, so it's important not to wear too much unless it actually is frigid. Wool, silk and water proof breathables! Back then I rode a mountain bike and didn't have studded tires, but now I sure would if I had to ride in snow. I was young and didn't even know about snow tires.

Anonymous said...

I would add a hearty endorsement to the studded tire theme. I've commuted for 12years, year round, the last 10 in Champaign IL. Not very far (3 miles each way). Yes, studded tires are heavy and slow and studs only really help on ice, not so much on snow. I keep a mountain bike exclusively for "ice days" and run conti Ice Spikers with 240 studs. I've been doing that for 3 years. I resisted for years since the tires are pretty expensive for something that gets used a few days a year. I ordered them the night after a fall on glare ice that turned about half of my body into a bruise. I have had no grip problems since. With the studs on if I have a choice between a snowy rout and an icy route, I take the ice. As a stud convert, I strongly encourage you to give it a try, especially if you have the luxury of running multiple bikes like I do. I like the higher stud count option because I only use it when I really need it and when you really need studs, more=better. Studs up on the sides are a big help in the icy ruts. If you just run one bike something like the nokkian 106s might be a good compromise, but I think then you have a bike that's slow and heavy and mostly works on ice, but not always. But still, it's better than that, hey-there-was-a-bike-under-me-a-millisecond-ago feeling. I'm not sure about the front-only option. I have friends that do that and it helps over no-studs, but they still seem to have traction issues. There is just something wonderful about turning the cranks on ice with confidence.