Thursday, February 9, 2017

Winter friction

It's alive! Better late than never, but mother nature decided to finally make this winter great again. We've just got the first decent snowstorm this season - in mid February - very late for New England standards.

But prior to today's snowfall, we witnessed an early Armageddon yesterday morning, when roads turned into hokey rinks, which immediately resulted in this:
55-car pile up on I-95 (Source: Jen Miller @ Boston Herald)

The roads were low on friction, but completely thawed during the day when air temperature reached nearly 60F. And then it dropped to below zero on the universally-accepted scale (i.e. Celsius) and the big snow cometh.
Roads immediately got empty, not counting a few snowplows. I left my work early but despite that, there were already about 2 inches of snow on the Minuteman Bikeway. Riding through it was surprisingly difficult in places, as my 38mm tires are just too narrow to float on snow. Instead, they were trying to cut through it with lots of resistance. Is that a hint that I should tell my wife I really need to buy a fat bike?
Judging by the tracks, apparently, I was the only crazy person to ride a bike on the Minuteman in the middle of a blizzard. I finally put a studded tire on the front wheel of my bike and I have to say it made a huge difference. At least on the front wheel. I really should've bought a second tire for the rear wheel as well (I didn't. Call me cheap.), because while now the front wheel stays well planted on the path, the rear one is a different story. This morning I performed a perfect 180deg spin around the front wheel. I didn't even know I could do something like that!
I actually like riding a bike in blizzard-like conditions. It's fun, it's quiet, roads are completely empty and it's beautiful. If only the stupid wind didn't always blow snow in my face.

But then there is one thing that I encountered several times that makes this experience much less pleasant. It's the drivers - some of the ones who decided to drive anyway. Too often they feel like they have to roll down the window, throw a few f words (and I don't mean "f for friendly") and express their general disappointment that someone chose to ride a bike in such conditions. I guess driving a car during a snowfall is accepted as normal, but riding a bike, not so much.

Have you heard that the maturity of transportation cycling is measured by the number of women who ride their bikes in given area? They are the fragile ones - who often won't try to go somewhere by bike unless there is a safe and convenient infrastructure in place.

Here in New England, I would add one more measure - the number of people who ride bikes in winter. This really tells a lot about Boston and its suburbs. Is the infrastructure well-maintained during winter months or are bike lanes just a free storage for snow? Is plowing of bike paths given a priority? Are drivers aware of winter cyclists or do they just wave the finger? Still too much animosity. Friction is good, but under the tires.


  1. You are spot on. I have a bike with two studded tires, and yet I've been avoiding riding during the past few days, for two reasons: cars are sliding along the slick streets and might slide into me, and also because I know I'll get honked and cursed at for taking the lane with the shoulder covered by snow banks. Sigh.

  2. It must suck living in an area where civility is a luxury. Where I'm from I ride all the time and I very rarely have driver complain. Even in winter with slipery street a a good layer of snow, I'm chugging along on my fat bike on a cycling path shared with cars and the worst I get are people honking me telling me I have a cool ride.