Monday, 11 January 2010

Winter biking

Last week's commuting was a learning curve in new bike skills due to the snow and ice. There's was plenty of opportunity to practice balance, smooth slow turning, acceleration and braking along with quick reactions when wheels twitched on ice or soft snow. Surprisingly I haven't had many moments and made steady progress with only slightly extended commute times. Most motorists were considerate and took time to find the right place to overtake. One exception was a driver that passed just as the road narrowed and nearly forced me onto some ice. Then, he blew his horn after passing. I wasn't impressed.

It's proved to be a an expedient way of getting to work, and as the week has progressed, For many leaving the car at home was the most sensible option and therefore alternative modes of transport were needed, many taking to the train or walking. The UK really isn't geared up to handle a prolonged wintry weather like this. Since it is uncommon, there aren't the resources to manage it, whether it be snow clearing or cars with winter tyres. Some must regard cycling in this weather as madness, but it has been a way of avoiding treacherous pavements (side-walks) and making reasonable progress. I've seen other people taking to cycling as a way to get about and the local paper carried stories of other cyclists who got to where they needed to be by using a bike, including a doctor who got to his surgery and patients during the worst of the snow on Tuesday.

Bearing in mind my commuter bike is a road bike not a bike well suited for riding snow and ice, this winter cycling was far removed from true snow biking. I've been doing it on narrow tyres. Where too much snow or ice was still on the road, I got off an walked to the next safer bit of road. I also changed my pedals because clips were a hindrance to getting my foot down quickly if I was losing control.

A snow bike on the other hand, is adapted for riding in snow, taking mountain biking to a new level with emphasis not on suspension and comfort, but on making progress. To do this in snow requires very wide tyres at low pressure and with plenty of frame clearance. Ice requires studded tyres and those are uncommon. My ride couldn't be further from a snow bike and and it showed. Progress was impeded by its inappropriate features. A times, riding on the flat seemed like going uphill or using a turbo trainer, the resistance coming from collected ice and snow in the mudguards (fenders). I think the moving parts were also a bit sluggish because the morning temperature has been -5C to -10C. The week ended with my front brake cable shearing the nipple - a possible failure due to thermal stresses at the end of the cable or just a fault?

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