#BikeWinter Checklist: Should I Ride Today?

Winter Sparkle Fairy Land

Oh, boy, it sure has been a minute since I wrote some words about bicycles at you! This is because I haven’t really been immersed in the bike scene lately; I got real tired of some gross bro tendencies that run through it like life blood, I made new friends, and I got a new non-bike-messenger boo and promptly did that thing where you fall off the face of the earth for a while. Also, it’s February in Chicago, and the ratio of bike rides where I’m like “whoo, I remember why I love this, I feel so exhilarated and powerful and nimble and fleet” to bike rides where I’m like “I hate cars and I hate snow and I hate Rahm Emanuel and I hate potholes and I hate bikes” is vastly skewed, and I don’t want to infect y’all with my Negative Nancy disease.

We’re in the time of year where, for me, at my personal comfort level, it is not safe to ride everyday. Does that mean it’s not safe to ride at all? No! I just rode my bike to The Empty Bottle on Monday, and to work yesterday. But then a bunch of snow hit, and this morning you couldn’t have gotten me on a bicycle at gunpoint. This is the time of year where a lot of factors play into whether I’m going to ride my bike, take the bus, or sit at home cuddling my puppy and listening to records.

Everyone’s comfort level is different, so I’m not saying “if you observe this weather condition, you should definitely not ride your bike or you’ll die!!!!” I’m saying you should take a look at these conditions when you decide whether to ride for the day, and make a decision based on your experience with #bikewinter, what sort of bike you ride, and the length and route of the trip you’re taking.

Traction

-Does your bike tire cut through the snow/slush to pavement, or is there so much snow that you’re riding on top of it?
-If you wriggle your foot on wet-looking dark pavement, is there friction, or does it slip-slip-wriggle slide? If there’s friction, that means it’s just salt-snow-melt and you’re fine. If you can wriggle your foot like you’re doing the twist with no effort, proceed with extreme caution; everything’s coated with ice.
-Are the chunks of snow that get kicked to the side of the road soft enough to cut through with a wheel, or are they rock hard ice chunks that will make your wheel skip sideways if you run over them?

The Road

-Can you see potholes or other obstacles through the snow? Do you know this route well enough to anticipate major potholes or street cracks? Do you have a backup plan if you get a flat (such as a flat fix kit or public transportation)?
-Is the shoulder/bike lane clear enough to ride there, or do you have to ride in the car lane? Is it rush hour (when cars are likely to be not as friendly about you taking the lane) or the middle of the night (when you can ride in the middle of the street and hear a car coming from a mile off)? Do you have lights on? Are you dressed for visibility?
-Can you take a major road that’s been plowed or that has enough traffic to clear snow? Do you have to take unplowed side streets to get where you’re going? Can you take mostly major roads and walk your bike on the side streets?

The Weather

-What’s the visibility like? Remember, if you can’t see two feet ahead of you, cars can’t either, and that’s a much bigger concern.
-Is it in the negative temperatures? Does your face skin feel like it’s going to die and fall off if you go out without a scarf?
-Is the snow very wet and clingy and gross, and do you have a waterproof layer on?
-Did the temperature rise and then drop suddenly so that melted snow has refrozen into planes of ice?

Decided to ride, but want a little more advice before you hit the slush? Try my epic guide to #bikewinter and Lauren’s guide for beginners.

4 Comments

  • dave stanford February 5, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    I saw someone riding this morning on unplowed / poorly plowed lincoln, wobbling in front of a bus. I gave them the thumbs up for being bad ass, and said stay safe as they passed me by.

    I keep telling myself I’m going to ride as soon as the street’s cleared up, or as soon as the temperature gets above 0, and the weather and Rahm keep working against me.

    Reply
    • Lizzy February 10, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Sunshine and wind matter most to me, but then my work commute route is the Lakefront, so I have fewer concerns about (car) road conditions and more about wind. I’m lucky that way because the time window for solitary rides is such a tiny part of the year that I hate missing out.

      Reply
  • Lisa February 7, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    All of what you said, plus “will I be happier riding my bike than not riding my bike?” There are days recently when I could have safely ridden, but the thought of it, uncharacteristically, did not make me happy. So I am on a little hiatus, and looking forward to morning temperatures warming up to the teens and the main lanes being clear. If we get lucky, that might be about a week from now.

    Reply
  • Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Chicago February 10, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    […] How I Decide Whether to Ride My Bike During the Winter (Tiny Fix) […]

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