Friday, February 16, 2007

Interesting commute today!

originally uploaded by frickercycle.
Yep, that's my bike there... the Miyata that I built up recently, with studded tires, on the Washington and Old Dominion rail trail just outside Vienna, VA. I decided to ride to work today, in part just to give it a try, in part because I just felt like I haven't ridden enough lately, in part because I thought it might be fun. Well, it was... a LOT of fun! Challenging, even frustrating at times, but all in all, a good ride.

I should explain that on Tuesday/Wednesday, the DC area got hit with a mix of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Over here in our part of Virginia, it was mostly a strange sort of hard snow, almost like sleet, but with actual accumulation... around 3-4 inches I think. Anyway, what ever combination of precipitation actually fell, combined with cold temperatures and wind, gave us a covering of VERY crusty snow. So crusty, in fact, that I can walk across my yard without leaving a trace.

The funny thing is, even when my weight, including bike and gear, was perched on top of two skinny tires, I didn't punch through the crust! My ride took me on about 3 miles of this trail, and once I figured out the trick, it was a blast. I found the best path to take was to stay off to the sides of the actual trail, where few, if any, people had walked. Doing that, I could just cruise along on the hard, smooth crust, taking advantage of the fact I have studs on my bike. Pretty amazing. Now, it wasn't perfect... in some spots the trail narrows so much that there was no smooth area to the side... and in others, I had to ride along the edge of a dropoff to stay on the smooth snow. And then there was the stretch where the smooth area had been used by a cross-country skier, using a "skating" technique... leaving a succession of althernating diagonal grooves across my path... each one of which my front wheel tried to follow.

And that, in my limited experience, really is the trick to riding in snow and ice conditions. The footprints, ski tracks, and even tire tracks from other bikes, all tend to upset your attempt to ride a straight line. The studs do help keep your wheels under you, but they don't eliminate this problem. The best bet is to carefully pick your way on the smoothest surface you can find, trusting that the studs will grip. And when you get to bumpy stretches, try to keep your cool, and keep your upper body loose, and keep your momentum up. Don't try to set land speed records, but don't slow to a crawl, as it becomes harder to balance.

All in all, I'm really glad I rode today. It was a fun trip, and a beautiful day. And the look of surprise on the faces of folks walking the trail, or in cars at the various road crossings, added to the fun. On the other hand, I was just as happy to get a ride home, as picking a smooth path becomes a LOT harder by headlight. Another time for that.

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