cycling · winter

Snow commuting, still faster than driving

This story has been in the news a lot this week : Data From Millions Of Smartphone Journeys Proves Cyclists Faster

According to all of the data on our smartphones–here’s looking at you Google Fit!–in urban environments biking time beats car travel time hands down

(There’s been a lot of analysis of the data, from smart phones and from Strava. For the big picture look here: Strava’s 2018 Fascinating Year In Review Stats)

I had my own version of the “biking is faster the driving” phenomena last night when someone saw me on my bike and offered me a drive to a meeting. I calculated the time to lock up the bike and get back to it after the meeting and quickly declined. I wanted the ease of having the bike near me for getting home after the meeting. The driving colleagues offered to let the others know that I’d be late. I didn’t think I’d be late. But whatever.

I was waiting for the elevator when the driving colleagues arrived. “Huh, you beat us.” 

They thought about it and noted that I got to park closer. They parked in a lot a ways a way but I locked up my bike in covered bike parking just outside the building.  But truth be told, I was ahead of them all the way. 

At the first light they were stopped behind a line of cars but I was the only bike in the bike lane.  Between traffic lights I’m not that much different than a car in terms of speed.

Last night, after the meeting, I had a magical ride home in the snow. I took a quiet route with almost no cars. The snow was falling pretty heavily and the plow hadn’t been by yet. I was curious to see how my “adventure road bike” would do. My fat bike is better suited to real snow but this bike did just fine.

What’s an adventure road bike? It’s not a cx bike, not designed for cyclocross bike. It’s not a technical mountain bike designed for mud and rocks. And it’s not a pavement only road bike either.

Here’s one description from Evans Cycle in the UK:

“Different brands have different takes on what adventure road geometry should be, in general they sit much closer to road bikes, but with a more relaxed geometry, a higher stack height for a more heads up riding position and sometimes longer chain stays for stability when carrying a load. The tyres will generally be fatter than road tyres, but with a semi-slick rubber that won’t hold you back on the road, so you’ll be comfortable switching between disciplines with ease.

Because Adventure Road bikes aren’t designed for technical, wooded areas and muddy racing, the bottom bracket stays in a position more akin to that of a road bike, and tyre clearance does not need to be as great. Since it’s unlikely you will need to hop off the bike, and run over obstacles or up banks, disc brakes are common place as low weight is less crucial.What are adventure road bikes good for?

Adventure Road bikes make fantastic steeds for commuting or touring duties – comfortable geometry, shorter reach and robust wheels and tyres mean they can cope with hefty mileage over rough terrain. Therefore, the bikes often have racks for panniers, mudguards and drinks bottles, so you can load them up should you need to.

Adventure Road bikes are super versatile and with one bike you can cover a huge range of riding styles but there are subtle differences and it is a broad spectrum. Before you start browsing think about what you are likely to use the bike for and which features will be most key to your buying choice.”

cycling · fitness

First Snowy Ride (Guest Post)

My bike and I went on quite an adventure this week. Thursday night, I reduced the pressure in her tires in preparation for our first ride through the snow. I was excited, but also really nervous. Every time I thought of winter riding, two things came to mind. I thought about how much fun it could be, but my fear of falling tempered my excitement. What was I thinking!?

I have post-concussion syndrome – the result of a car hitting me while cycling four years ago. I know that my brain is more vulnerable than most since brain injuries are accumulative. Shouldn’t I avoid any activities that put me at risk of falling? But I know better than that. I could just as quickly fall and hit my head slipping on the sidewalk. I have to live. I cannot stop living life out of fear. Sometimes it’s tricky balancing caution and quality of life.

Typically, I exercise significantly less during the cold winter months – I think most of us do. Last year, I got a gym membership as soon as the snow flew in hopes of working out at least a few times a week. I only live a few blocks from the gym, and I had friends who I could work out with there. Still, there were plenty of weeks when I didn’t get there at all – especially once I started school.

This year, I knew that I needed to do something differently. I have a bike trainer, but that alone likely won’t be enough. Cycling outside with the wind on my face and nature all around me – that is a different story entirely. If I can gain enough confidence in my winter bike handling abilities, it could be a game changer for me. The benefits of trying winter cycling, seem to outweigh the risks.

When I woke up to a winter wonderland on Friday, I noticed a friend who has cycled through many winters had posted on social media about how slippery it was. I reconsidered – again. “Just try it,” I told myself. “You can always change your mind and take the bus if you don’t feel safe. Just try it and see how it goes.” And so I did.

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I biked a slow 12 kph to the bus stop. Bus there and bike home was the plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be and I felt exhilarated by the time I arrived at the bus stop. Fresh snow to make tracks in made it more fun than I expected!

I was nervous about biking downhill on the way home, and by then I had pre-used snow to contend with. Fresh snow is more fun and relaxing to bike on, but I soon realized that my rubber tires were good at keeping me balanced. Biking over the footprints in the snow felt similar to biking over gravel – go slow and steady, don’t turn sharply and don’t brake suddenly.

I was 7 km into my ride before I realized that I had been so worried about falling that I wasn’t enjoying the experience or the scenery. By then, I was feeling more confident about the conditions and realized that I could relax a bit. “Look up and enjoy the view,” I reminded myself. Seconds later I came around a corner to a delightful surprise. Straight in front of me, heading across the path, was a buck. We paused to look at each other for a few seconds before he wandered into the woods. There’s no photo of the encounter, but the moment is crystal clear in my mind – I had never been so close to a deer.

Initially, I had planned to put studded tires on my bike. There’s a good chance that I would feel more confident with studded tires, but from what I’ve heard, the energy required increases significantly with studs. I enjoyed Friday’s ride enough to try it again, but even without studs, lowered tire pressure doubled my riding time. Given the number of dry days we typically have here, I suspect I will ride more often without studded tires.

I expect it will take a while before my nerves settle down and I’m able to fully enjoy winter biking – it’s a bit of a learning curve. I also know that there will be lots of days when I opt to take the bus instead. However, Friday was a great start, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to bike on a fresh dusting of snow!

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Phoenix – my bike – was messier than I had expected, so I decided that the easiest way to clean her was with a gentle shower. 5 minutes later she was sparkling and free of dirt and leaves!

Do you ride during the winter? What was your first ride like? What are your tips for newbies?

Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from the cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.