Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Week Fifteen - Day Three: Victory!

BIKE: Mike
TIME THERE: 40 min.
TIME BACK: 40 min.
WEATHER: overcast, -20C, 4km/hr wind there; a few clouds, -15C (-22C with windchill), 11km/hr wind back
WHAT I WORE: Baffin "Chloe" boots, thick wool ski socks, thermal underwear, MEC Watchtower fleece pants, turtleneck, fleece mid-layer, waterproof shell, balaclava, ski goggles, lobster gloves
Fuck yeah, I biked to school today! In frigid temperatures! On snowy, icy roads! And you know what? I'm damn proud of myself. Sure, it took 40 freakin' minutes to get there, and I was dressed like a yeti, and I faced some challenges (see below), but I made it, I survived, and I felt really good about it.

So, the challenges - those included:
  1. Lack of sleep: This is hardly a new one, being a single parent to a not-quite-toddler who's perpetually either going through a growth spurt, teething, or both. Still, I was already tired yesterday but still didn't get to bed til sometime after 10:00 pm because of my annoying 9:00 pm second-wind. Then my daughter was up at 2:00 am, and after taking care of her (changed a diaper, got her some milk, gave her some Tylenol for the teething pain), I had difficulty falling asleep. Then she was up again sometime around 6:00 am, and the alarm went off at 6:45 am. If it weren't for the ride in the cold, fresh air, I would feel a whole lot less awake right now!
  2. Snowbanks: Thank you, City of Edmonton, for treating bicycle lanes as convenient space to pile up the massive snow banks that accumulate when you clear the roads. At one point I ended up having to stop, get off my bike, and actually carry it over a ~4ft. high snow bank that completely blocked access to the bike lane. Then I had to bike on the road in one of the tire ruts because the icy, snowbanky bike path was too treacherous for me to feel confident riding on. Thanks, city!
  3. Falling: Yes, I did fall - ONCE - and it really wasn't a big one by any stretch. What happened was that I was biking on the road, in one of the tire ruts, through a side street in the neighbourhood of Oliver, when I heard a car come up behind me and slow to a crawl because I was taking up his lane. Feeling bad about this, I tried drifting out of my rut and over to the more snowy, icy side of the road so he could pass me. Unfortunately, trying to drift my way out of an icy rut did not meet with success, as the sides of my tires were unable to bite into the "wall" of the rut and therefore I tipped over onto the icy, snowy part of the road that I was intending to move into. I was going about 5km/hr at that point, and the car behind me had plenty enough space and was also going slow enough that stopping for me was not a problem at all. Still, this fall was a bit embarrassing, added time to my ride, and left what feels like a lovely little bruise developing on my right hip. Nothing serious, though, and I've learned my lesson well: later on in the ride, when another car came up behind me as I rode in a tire rut, I said under my breath: "fuck it", and stayed exactly where I was. If the car wanted to pass me, he could go around me, I wasn't going to try pulling over again!
  4. Breathing: Such a simple thing, really, and yet condensation can be quite a bitch and interfere with some pretty basic and important functions such as seeing and breathing. With my helmet on, my ski goggles pressed down against the bridge of my nose and made it nearly impossible to breathe through my nose at all. That's fine, I usually pant and wheeze my way to work anyway, so mouth-breathing it is! The problem is that the condensation from my mouth-breathing would gather on my balaclava and freeze, which then made it much harder to breathe through. As more ice built up on the balaclava, it got harder and harder to breathe through, and by the time I got up the hill at the end of the bridge and carried my bike up that flight of stairs onto campus, I felt like I was suffocating. I pulled my balaclava up and gave myself a minute to breathe freely, unhindered by the frozen fabric that fit snugly over my mouth. Around the same time, my ski goggles had become virtually impossible to see through because of condensation building up on the inside and making them foggy. I rode on for another block or two being able to see with only one eye, but this felt too dangerous so I finished off the last couple blocks of my ride with the goggles around my neck and ice quickly accumulating on my eyelashes. I'm not sure what other cyclists do about the condensation issue, but it's definitely a problem for me! Perhaps if I run into another winter cyclist soon, I'll try to ask them about it.
I've learned that just because there might be other cyclists out, even in this weather and on these roads, it doesn't make my efforts any less triumphant when I face down this unknown beast of winter biking and win. I might be going slowly, but I'm doing it. I might feel pretty sketchy trying to navigate the mini-moguls of icy ruts that make the roads so difficult to bike on, but I'm surviving it. And I might be terrified that my poor lightweight road bike is going to break going over this frozen, jarring terrain that is much better suited to a shock-absorbing mountain bike, but so far Mike is holding up. And all this means that I can keep on keepin' on.

I just wish it didn't take so long! The bike ride itself has gone from 25 min. in the summer to 40 min. now, and add to that the 10 min. or so it takes to get changed into my winter weather riding clothes, it makes the commuting longer than I wish it was. Alas! It still beats paying $12 for parking every day.


  1. Nicely done on the winter biking! It takes a lot of willpower to head outside after the snow falls, but it actually makes winter that much more bearable (since you get outside every day, and, depending on your hours, you get to enjoy the bright winter sun).

    "Brown sugar" is always a challenge for winter cyclists, and I haven't figured out any good way to counter it (fat tires, skinny tires, go fast, go slow--nothing works that well). Tire ruts are also tricky, because we've all experienced what it's like to be going half your normal speed, safe and stable in a tire rut, but with a car inching up behind you, and that temptation to sidle over to the side to let them pass. I just about fell last week while doing that, even though I know better. You made the best choice: it won't help drivers or you if you fall over.

    The City's Bicycle Transportation Plan calls for proper snow removal on marked bicycle routes. Write to to let them know that the BTP is important to you, and that you encourage them to push forward with it and fully fund it!

    To deal with condensation, it sounds like you're not wearing a scarf? Try a scarf, and try different ways of wrapping it. Depending on your clothing, the shape of your face, and esoteric things, there's probably some small tweaks you can make to make breathing and seeing easier. Wrapping the scarf just over your neck might work, or wrapping it over your mouth might work (not too many layers, though!). Pulling up your balaclava so that it overlaps with the goggles on the bridge of your nose might work. Pulling down the balaclava so your nose is exposed might work (assuming you have a balaclava with just a single face opening). You'll find a way that reduces or redirects condensation away from your face, and then you can stick with it.

    Also, don't stop or ride too slowly, if you can avoid it. I find that I fog up whenever I do that.

    Edmonton Bicycle Commuters ( is having a DIY stud-your-own-tires workshop in the coming weeks. $5 tire (or bring your own), $5 for course registration and materials = one very good studded tire. It'll be a good opportunity to meet other experienced (and inexperienced) winter cyclists, too, and discuss things. Keep an eye on the website calendar for details.

    You can check EBC for a cheap ($40) mountain bike, too. I much prefer a mountain bike to use as my winter beater: winter riding is hard on the bike, and I find mountain bikes much more stable and comfortable in the winter, even though I only ride road bikes in the summer.

    Safe riding and thanks for the writing!

    (Urgh. I wrote a long comment, but then I typed in my password wrong, and when I clicked "back", it was gone, so this is a re-write. Google Chrome still likes to remind me that it's just a "beta".)

  2. Wicked!! Thanks for the helpful advice, Edmontonbikes! I really appreciate the winter riding tips, and for pointing me in the direction of the EBC stud-your-own-tires workshop. I've been riding Mike because I have studded tires for him, but given the road conditions I've been seriously considering getting studded tires for Eastwood because the mountain bike just seems to make such better sense. I haven't gotten studded tires for Eastwood, though, because they're f*&^ing expensive. Thank you, EBC, for riding in and being my knight in shining armour!! Maybe if I stud my own tires I can afford to make Eastwood winter-ready and be able to ride a more stable, comfy, shock-absorbing bike over these concrete-like mini-moguls that stud the sidewalks and streets these days.



I welcome your feedback and commentary! However, I do ask that you keep it respectful. Inappropriate comments will be deleted at The Healthy Biker's discretion.