Icy Streets, Falling down

The Tuesday morning commute was made extra-special-icy by the monday evening snow here in Seattle. We usually only see real ice here a couple times a year, making it hard to get any real practice in. What’s a committed commuter to do? Ride right through, maybe take a fall or two. Here are some guidelines for falling from Bike Snob NYC – finally a good excuse for fulfilling my breakdancing fantasies.

My short commute is pretty short, enough to just fit outside the 2-mile challenge radius. Seeing the streets all icy Tuesday morning I decided shorter was wiser and called my carpool mate to see if he was OK with unplanned passenger.

Having secured my car-ride, I went out to select my bike. Choices were limited as my main bad weather bike had a bum bearing, and I needed to pick up the wheel from a local bike shop that evening. I thought about taking the mountain bike, but in the end the folder was more convenient and I’d need it in the car anyway to pick up my other wheel and ride home. Folder + slicks it was.

I took it slow and easy on the flats, and slow and 1-leg down while headed down the big hill on 50th st. So far so good and I have to admit some hubris as I sat at the head of the line at the 50th St. Stoneway intersection. As always hubris pays off in spades and sure enough 20 feet later I was splayed out in the middle of the busiest intersection of my commute, thousands of smug car-muters chuckling wisely to themselves.

At the end of the day I’ve got a minor bump on one knee, and I still think I had much more fun than the car-muters. Next annual icy commute? Kneepads to go with my breakdancing.


Pam and I were just talking about this and the microclimates in Seattle—From my window view, I had no idea Seattle was iced over, until I step out and slipped on some ice. I’ve ridden in all sorts of weather, but do not mess around with ice.

I didn’t fall yesterday riding to work, but I certainly slipped around some. And the cars were not happy about my being on the streets instead of the Burke-Gilman.

Actually, I think I and the rest of Seattle’s bike commuters shouldn’t have been riding our bikes at all yesterday. Next time I will walk or take the bus when the streets and sidewalks have that kind of ice on them.

Just like the time I nearly rode into the Sound off of Alki point and decided I wasn’t going to ride at night anymore, I rode my old MTN bike in a snow storm.

It was great blasting down Fauntleroy until I suddenly found myself under a car. I lost traction on ice under the snow, the bike slipped out from under me, and momentum carried the bike right into and under a parked car. I wasn’t hurt, but realized, “shit that’s really f’‘ing stupid what I just did.”

I’ve also got an obsession with clothes and layering—soft shells (my current fav is the [Vertigo from Ibex](http://www.ibexwear.com/shop/ProductDetail.php?GID=823&VID=9256&Product=Vertigo-Jacket)), wicking, all that. I’ve got it down to a science, but don’t leave enough margin for errors, as I learned last weekend. I didn’t know better, but was riding in the eye of a storm North with a tailwind. When I turned around and heading South, I rode right into a squall and that tailwind was a freezing cold headwind. Within minutes, my fingers and toes were numb. Luckily, the squall passed and the sun broke through, but I was very close to phoning in a call for help.

Once again: there are many options available, and you will never regret buying a set of studded tires.  They will only be used for a few weeks of the year around here, so they will last a seriously long time, and they make days like this not just possible, but wonderful.  It is still possible to lose traction, even with studs, but it is much more difficult and predictable.  As for safety on slick surfaces, “blasting” down streets is never a good idea, but stop to think for a moment about the consequences of doing exactly the same thing you did on Fauntleroy, only in a car.  Falling on ice is no fun, but losing it in several tons of steel is even worse.  Be careful out there, but don’t let it get the better of you.  Experience, as always, will improve your ice ability.

Yeah - I may need to talk to the wife about a set of studded tires for my single speed cross bike.  It’ll be a slow go to get to work, but it sure would be fun.

Do Seattle’s buses have bike racks? I try to keep my commute here in Minneapolis a block or so away from a bus line going the same way in case the ice is unexpectedly bad or something goes wrong with the bike.

I rode headlong into the storm Monday evening on my commute home to south Shoreline.  I was covered with snow and freezing by the time I got to my house at 160th.  Tuesday morning I wondered if I could punch through the north end into sunny, dry, downtown.  I got to 140th and turned around falling once on the way home.  Next time we have ice = I ride the bus.

Every time it snows here in Seattle my wife and I have the same arguement. She demands that I not ride to work the next day, and I sheepishly insist that I am an adult, and that I will be safe, blah, blah, blah.

In the end I always end up realizing that she is worried about my health and safety, and I am just being stubborn about being told not to do something. Bottom line, I rode the bus on Tues (and Weds because the roads didn’t thaw up in Maple Leaf…).

I’m back on the bike again.  Not yet back commuting after a major fall on ice on the Wednesday in January after the Monday ice storm here in Seattle.  From our house it looked OK and my Tuesday commute had not been bad in the car.  I was going at a good clip and hit a major patch of ice.  I was over immediately, ouch!  I was going straight, not turning.  Now I wonder if studded tires is the way to go in the winter for Seattle.  Any thoughts? 

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