How I learned to bike in snow

DSCN0019[1]My bike handling style, can be summed up in a single word, “tentative”. Going into the last winter, I  had never been a risk taker, never pushed the boundaries, never attempted to ride off-road, no-handed or anything of that nature.  My bike handling skills were at a basic, beginning level.

But then snow started taking over the road and suddenly, I had to learn how to ride on something other than pavement or a hard-packed dirt road. Biking in deep fresh snow was a blast but it was also terrifying.

White-knuckled, I rode, trying to force my bike to keep a straight line in the light and fluffy snow. My rear wheel was a traitor though, constantly twisting around like it was an independent entity. Then I learned the trick of lowering my tire pressure to the lowest recommended psi. Take that little traitor! Fishtailing was still a common occurrence, but it felt slower and gentler, so much easier to handle.

Lowering the psi did give me increased traction but the extra rolling resistance slowed my average speed way down. So I would pump my tires up when the road were clear and then release that pressure when I was biking during or after a snowstorm.

Coming into the month of January, I was starting to gain confidence in the snow. After all, even though my bike twisted around like mad when it couldn’t contact the pavement or ice (which my studs would bite into) the only time I had fallen off my bike was when I misjudged the shoulder’s edge and tumbled into a ditch.

Then, one day when I was biking home from work someone stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I uttered my standard, “I’m good, thank you!” and they drove off. I smiled to myself, so thankful that I discovered the world of winter biking. I didn’t want to be in a car when I could be pedaling through snow! I felt happy and free and as I was biking through the brilliantly sparking white snow, somehow the skill that had evaded me all winter, began to click into place. Which was weird because I didn’t even know that this was the skill I had been looking for all along.

It wasn’t really a skill, it was more a mindset shift. I had started to trust my bike. My iron grip on the handlebars was loosened and I let the front wheel guide the bike and I through the snow. When the bike shifted under me, instead of fighting it,  I let it move underneath me. I was no longer a dictator trying to force my bike in a rigidly straight line-we started working together.

That was the missing puzzle piece. Once I started working with my little pink mountain bike, riding in the snow became increasingly easier and more fun. I could pump my tires to their max psi and not suffer for it. The last few months of winter sped by fast and before I knew it the days of snowy commutes were over.

I miss the sheer joy of plunging into deep snow on my bike. But winter will soon be here and I can’t wait to learn more about how to bike in snow.

Over the summer, I found a video that would have really helped me at the start of my snowy travels. But it wasn’t in existence yet and it has a rather misleading title.

Every main tip can be applied to biking through snow although there are a few differences. First, the video makes biking through sand (or snow) out to be tougher than it really is, probably because they are coming from the standpoint of using this skill in a race. The skinny tires probably make it trickier as well. When I am out biking there is no pressure to get through the snow as fast as possible. Second, when there is ice on the road and there are rocks and chunks of ice littering that road but hidden under a layer of snow, big studded tires are always the way to go.

This post is the second post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

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14 thoughts on “How I learned to bike in snow

  1. We get much less snow here in DC than you do up yonder so I don’t bother with studded tires. Without them, riding on ice is insane. Recently, the National Park Service has put two short (100 yard) detours on the Mount Vernon Trail. They are covered in mulch. I ride them much the same as you ride in snow. Let the rear wheel slide, shift my weight back, try not to over-control the steering, etc. No problems so far even when riding on the 20 inch wheels of my Bike Friday.
    As for snow, I won’t mind a bit if it takes its time getting here.

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  2. You have inspired me to think seriously about biking through the winter this year! I’m OK with cold and wet weather, and I can put studded tires on my bike. My big hesitation is that in the Boston area, snow banks pile up on the shoulder of the road after a couple of big snowstorms. That forces me into the lane, blocking traffic, during most of my ride to work. So I worry that drivers will get super road ragey on their already stressful and hectic commutes — and take it out on me. Any advice?

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    • That’s makes me so happy that you are considering it! Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer in the way of advice for city biking since I have barely biked in cities at all and never in snow!
      There were times that I took the lane as well and made cars pass me-one thing I did find is that it is important to “own” the space you are in and to keep a straight line as much as possible, being predictable helps cars to understand what they need to do to drive safely near you. Road rage is very rare here since there is no rush hour so I don’t know how that factor would change things…how does a road rage-type situation usually play out when you are biking now? The snow and closer proximity could work to intensify the situation, but maybe you could just use the same strategies you use already to calm things down. My hope is that drivers would be more considerate to you in the winter (the folks up here amazed me with how carefully they drove around me) but maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part 🙂

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  3. Pingback: How long does it take a cautious person to learn how to ride no-handed? | Bike Like Crazy

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