5 Cycling Stories Covered in Snow and Ice

 

Ice bike ride Saturday

After last weekends hectic organization of Winnipeg’s inaugural Ice Bike Event this weekend was spent in more leisurely pursuits.

On this Saturday the whole family rose late. After breakfast Josh and I headed off for a ride up the Red River. There was a strong South wind so we ended up cutting back to the road for the into the windward leg. When cut through my brother in laws yard to get back on the river.

To cut back to the road we headed over a field… surrounded by a ditch – bike parking made easy 😉

We had had some strange weather for the time of year. The previous Monday we had freezing rain. For those that have not had the pleasure of this first hand it is a real charmer. Basically after it has been particularly cold the air warms up enough for rain to fall which freezes on contact with everything it touches. Cars, trees, power lines, and the road all end up looking like they are coated in a clear sugar glaze. The entertainment begins when you try and move around on this stuff… all the world becomes a skating rink. School gets cancelled. The highways are categorized “travel not recommended” which is basically the last step before they shut them down. Those that do venture out in a vehicle have a good chance of ending up in the ditch or an accident. Fortunately the day was a warm one with the temperature getting +5C, almost a record for February and this cleared the worst of it off the roads and foot paths/side walks.

When you combine the fact that we have had little snow in the last couple of months the river becomes a haven for ice biking ;-). The surface conditions vary from very slippery ice to ice covered by a thin layer of crusty snow. Perfect for ice biking.

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With the right amount of snow the traction is ideal for practicing tricks and honing ones bike handling skills.

iceslope

This was an interesting section of ice. It was very slippery and had a gentle slope at the bank where the river level has dropped since the ice formed. Here Josh demonstrated to me ice biking skills I can only dream about.

He would get up a head of speed and head for the bank, execute a turn and return all the time keeping his effective center of gravity over the rubber in contact with the ice. To complicate matters add in a 40kph wind coming from the south. Soon after this photograph was taken Josh was being visibly blown along the ice by the wind while he was half on the bike as you see him here.

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For my part I was please to be able to maintain my balance just for riding. This picture does not show it clearly but there is loose snow being blown over the ice which creates quite an eirie effect in this friction challenged environment. With the winds we cruising comfortably at about 30Kph.

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In most places the ice was at least a couple of feet thick. As we were riding we heard the distant cracking of the ice a number of times. It is a bit like thunder originating from beneath you feet. Very very errie! Riding under the bridge that leads into Saint Adolphe you could see that the cracks in the clear black ice only ran about 200 mm before they hit water, an indication of just how warm the weather has been this winter. A little to the left of this picture the cracking sounds were in response to our passage so we elected to head back to the shore line.

This is a sign welcoming snow mobilers to Saint Adolphe. With the conditions as they were we were the only people on the river.

(Note that my bike is not currently spec. I have both my spare wheels on and the front disk brake is in the process of being replaced under warranty. Hopefully I will have everything back and be ready for action by the time the summer racing season starts. — Saint Adolphe is to host its first mountain bike race this season which I am organizing.)

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After playing on the river we headed back up to the park land surrounding Saint Adolphe. They have flooded a section to create a skating rink. This proved and ideal location for practicing the perfect 360.

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The other favorite winter activity is snowboarding. Alas what little snow there was this year has all but gone. Here Josh is getting some air from a jump he built for snow boarding. The landing was a little icy and the hook on the jump was not ideal for biking.

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This was truly an utopian day of Ice Biking. Rarely are conditions as good as this!

by Josh and Daavid Turnbull. Date: February 13, 1999

The Blizzard of ’99

This evening’s ride was quite a test of my dedication to this little piece of insanity. When I left campus, it was merely snowing hard. It was small and stung my eyes a little, but it was manageable. I took mostly side streets to the grocery store. By the time I got there, the weather was a little worse, so afterwards I decided to ride on residential streets to avoid heavy traffic.

The wind picked up a bit and the snow got thicker. Visibility was starting to decrease, so I pulled over a few times to let following cars pass. I briefly considered taking the Metro rail part way (they allow bikes on the trains), but decided I’d rather ride.

Main street wasn’t too bad. The blowing snow hit my eyes pretty hard, causing me to blink rapidly. Main street is very wide, so cars had plenty of room to pass. It was evident that my NiteRider tail light was quite visible, as I was always given plenty of room.

However, soon it got steadily worse, both in wind speed, and rate of snowfall. Visibility was about 50 feet and I could barely see, but I wasn’t too cold yet. I pulled off and rested briefly at a bus stop shelter. And then I realized I was in a full white out. Visibility about 20 ft.

I seriously considered taking the Metro rail from there. Thought about it for a minute or more. Then the wind died down a little, and I was only 3 miles from home, so I figured I’d press on.

I figured wrong. (and there was no metro station between there and home) The headwind picked up fiercely. Cars were *crawling*. A big semi-truck had just up and pulled off to the side, waiting it out.

I opted for the following strategy. I would ride in the center of the lane, but the moment I saw headlights behind me, I’d pull over and allow all the cars to pass. I did this about 15 times. It wasn’t too bad, but slow going. When I was moving, I averaged 8mph into the headwind. I guess cars were moving about 15 mph. We were all moving slower than usual.

So I decided to just ride, as close to the right hand side as practicable, and to watch out for following traffic. Everyone was very courteous. One guy in a van even stopped to ask me directions. I thought he was going to ask if I needed a ride. I would have declined, of course. By this point, despite the numbing of my fingertips and the formation of ice on my balaclava, it was a point of pride for me to make it home on my bicycle. At least I was getting good traction on the packed snow.

A few minutes later, I saw a flash! I thought it was a street light burning out, but then I heard thunder! Okay, I thought, so this really is a big storm! I saw lightning and heard thunder twice more before I got home. I was cold and the snow really stung my eyes, but my spirits weren’t too bad. Nearly everyone passing me did a double take. I could barely believe it myself. But there I was, riding a bicycle in extreme winter conditions in Buffalo.

I seriously believe in bicycle transportation as an alternative to the private automobile. Even in the cold and snow. But it’s usually not this bad. Not even close.

I made it home, entered through the basement, and took a look at my bike, *caked* with wet heavy snow. I had my new camera in my bag, so I took a picture of it. At some point I’ll put the photo on my web page.

I don’t know if they’ll call this the blizzard of ’99, but if they do, I want a T-shirt saying that I cycled in it. I was cold, and very happy to be home when I got there. Having had enough, I decided not to return a rented video due that day. I can eat a late fee for the luxury of throwing on some sweatpants, drinking a fine beer and letting the bike melt in the kitchen while pizza rapidly thaws and crisps in my toaster oven.

by Alistair Campbell, Buffalo, New York. Date: January 6, 1999

Winter Cycling in Moscow

Winter cycling in Moscow, RussiaMy home city of Moscow (yes, the one in Russia) is a beautiful city. It’s hot in summer and the winters are cold, perfect for icebiking.

Winter cycling is very popular in Moscow. People cycle everywhere all winter long.

My friends and I are especially interested in recreational cycling in winter. We enjoy the downhill parallel slalom racing where two cyclists descend parallel tracks slaloming between flags like skiers. Crashes are spectacular as some of these photos show.

Winter racing is certainly colder than summer racing, but winter is the season for “Real” bikers.

Winter cycling in Moscow, RussiaWe also hold impromptu “Winter Trials” using anything we happen to find. These events work well for improving our bike handling skills. Anyone can jump onto pallets in the summer. The ice adds new challenges and requires new skills.

Some of the things I like best about winter cycling are as follows:

  • Soft falls. Snow makes for safe landings in some of our more adventurous downhill runs. As you can see from the pictures, we often need a soft landing. In the sequence at right, “Boriska” takes one on the nose. He wasn’t hurt, due to soft snow landing.
  • No dirt, well, not much anyway.
  • No puddles
  • No rain
  • No mosquitoes
  • No sharp stones
  • No broken bottles on the forest roads to ruin your tires
  • The bears are asleep – forest roads are even safer 😉
  • No “wimps” on the trail – they’re all watching TV at home
  • The dogs are slower and don’t bark as loudly
  • If your V brakes work poorly you have a perfect excuse to upgrade to disk brakes – unless the wife decides she needs a new coat.
  • No sheet of trees in your rear switch system – er, ah, in English I guess you would say no leaves to get caught in your rear derailleur
  • When you crash in snow you don’t get green stains on your clothes from the grass
  • The skiers are slower
  • The rivers are not barriers
  • You can put up flags for parallel slalom quickly in the snow
  • Easy to track down your friends by following their tracks in the snow

These are images that I transferred from my video camera. Sometimes I capture some great sequences, but the transfer process does not always render the sharpest images.

Winter cycling in Moscow, Russia

There is another site in Moscow which has some pretty good shots of Winter Bike Slalom runs. You can click on the small images and see a larger version.

In addition, winter cyclists from Moscow have an Internet Chat Board named Velozona, but in order to read that site you will need the Cyrillic fonts installed on your computer (oh, a working knowledge of the Russian language would be helpful too).

by Grisha Strasnij, Moscow, Russia

Shadows in the Moonlight

It was 12:15am when I left (my friend) Heather’s house, and 6 degrees F outside. How refreshing, I do love cold winters nights. Heather’s mom thought I was nuts, and had proclaimed that I must get a ride home, but I convinced my comrades otherwise. So I hopped on my bike and left.

There was about 1/2 inch of crisp snow on the ground, which had dropped the night before. The moon was nearly full, and the sky quite clear. I didn’t take me long to realize that, due to the intense moonlight, and lack of marauding cars, that my lights served no purpose. So I pushed the rubber buttons, stiff from the cold, and shut them down.

I decided to take the long way home. So down to the river I went, to Island Park, crossing the wood and cable bridges. Then on to the bike path, heading south. I got to the south Batavia dam, it seemed that you could hear the ice crystals shattering as they rolled over the dam, like flowing liquid glass. I then proceed down a singletrack trail which lead to Glenwood Springs Forest Preserve. It was so bright in the woods, allowing me to easily navigate the narrow trail–over a log, across a half frozen stream.

I stopped for a while, reveling in the silver luminosity. I could actually see distinct shadows in the moonlight. Crisp and sharp, ghostly shadows, like something out of a dream.

I decided it was time to go home, my legs and toes were a bit cold. After all, I hadn’t dressed with the intention of going for a midnight ride. All and all I rode about 8 miles tonight, not very far. I slowly meandered my way home for about 50 minutes. Thought the statistics aren’t so impressive, it’s nights like this that are truly memorable.

I wish all icebikers could have been there with me to share in the wonderment. It was truly an enchanted night.

by Frank “FishMan” Hassler, Date: December 21, 1999

My Day Tuesday

Up at 4:30 AM. Not only awake, but alert, full of energy. It is calm, 17 degrees F. The thought that last night I tuned my shifters is pleasing. I might make some decent time today. I note that the East German college student, a former high school exchange student who stayed with us a few years ago, now a drummer in a Berlin alternative rock band and visiting us for a few days, is home. My car, apparently intact, is parked next to the curb. I was not heartened, during our familiarization drive, when he asked, “how do you drive an automatic?”

I check my e-mail: There is a letter from a friend in the music production business in the Boston area, a mini essay really, on creativity, the need to stay grounded, appreciate the simple life, stay in touch with one’s roots. I compose a reply. Then I realize that it is 5:40 AM; I am overdue to be on the road.

Quickly I finish dressing, thanking goodness that I loaded my bike earlier. I mount up, roar into the street. Only the roaring isn’t in my head–it’s my rear tire. Flat. Back into the garage, a quick change–thank goodness the new tubes came a couple of days ago–back on the road, down the hill to the highway. Great momentum, for fifty yards.

It is no longer still. Wind is now out of the northeast 20-25 mph, occasional gusts from east–so what I’ve got is a steady headwind with sideward bursts. Wonderful. I gear down and grind to work, but I’m running way late, so I can’t relax. Another reason I can’t relax is that I’ve forgotten to close all the pit zips from last night and there’s a pretty good breeze whistling through my underwear.

A wimpy voice in the back of my head is whining something about the car, about the cold, about the wind. I slap it down with images of Iditabikers slogging through wilderness snow against the wind, leaning into the task, eyes fixed and grim behind icy balaclavas.

I arrive at work. I stow the bike and coat, grab my pannier and head for the shower. Plenty of time. I undress, start to lay out my clothes. Wrong bag. My clothes are back with the bike. So I redress, retrace my path to the bike (about 200 yards) return the curious looks of those I greeted moments ago with what I think is a sardonic smile. Finally the hot water. Maybe the day will get better.

At 10 AM it begins to snow. The wind picks up. Now we have a blizzard. The German kid drops by the school for lunch with me. I tell him, “please, please, whatever you do, don’t wreck the car.” By 4:30 it is a full-blown “Swedish” blizzard dropping–as I will discover on the way home–a smorgasbord (sorry, no umlaut) of snow.

By the time I am on the road, there is every condition I can imagine, loose snow, packed snow, glazed snow, black ice, ice with dry snow on it, ice with water on it, car-ground meal snow; there is standing snow and drifts, hard drifts and soft drifts; there are ruts, some empty and glazed, others filled with various types of snow.

If Forest Gump’s friend, Bubba, was a snow man, he would be able to improvise a ten minute monologue on it. I am thinking, the few Inuit living hereabouts will finally get to utilize their snow vocabularies, if they actually have them (All I’ve ever head them say is, “you call this piddle, snow?”).

So now what was my headwind this morning is a semi-tailwind that switches from side to side and follows me down the steepest hill where–my god, these aren’t drifts, they’re moguls!–I go crashing through, my arms fixed and locked on the handlebars like Casey on the throttle.

Clever me–I had the presence of mind to stick my studded front tire in my wife’s car (we work different hours in the same place) so I have only the giddy rear to contend with until the moguls. But the Extreme’s tread always finds something to hang onto. White knuckled drivers blow by me cursing, a passing cattle truck anoints me with the residue of its load. I’m thinking, time for my short-charged battery to go dim. It does.

I don’t know why, but today is a day for “doubles,” cars meeting cars on the two-lane. I lose track of how many times I dive for the ditch and pack out. At least my toes are finding my duct-taped, plastic lid-reinforced powergrips. I struggle up the hill from the highway into our village, spin out three quarters of the way up, have to push.

I am thinking, I don’t have to find my drop box. I don’t have to find a place to sleep and get warm. I have a hot shower. I have a bed. I don’t complain. Life is good. I’ve just had fun while commuting.

Just before supper, my wife tells me. “Uh, I just wanted to warn you, (our guest) had a little accident with your car (for the record, an 86 Pontiac with faded paint, veined glass, a riddled roof, and a duct-taped fender worth less than half as much as my bike). No one was hurt. There was no real damage. But we had to go to the police station and fill out a report.”

At table he sat, much chagrined, waiting to tell me. “I vas going wery, wery slowly,” he said. “I put on the brake, pumped it, but it just kept going. It vas a wery bad day to be driving. If there’s any cost. . .”

I wave my hand in dismissal, flecking the table with tomato sauce from my plate of bicycle fuel. “That’s why I ride a bike,” I said, feeling a surge of energy that told me I’ll still be in the race tomorrow.

by Roger O. Rock, Fort Peck, Montana, Date: March 16, 2000

The Hunter

I tumbled upon a hunter this afternoon, a day filled with muted tones.

This trapper wore gray feathers, and captured the world within steely eyes. A north wind blew at my back as I pedaled towards town. The large hawk blended with the steady, strong wind to hover ten to twelve feet above the ground. He, maybe it was she, didn’t twitch ‘er a muscle to stick there, in mid air, like a living still photograph. I certainly wasn’t sweating my own effort, sailing along at 15 mph, occasionally at 22 mph over frozen dirt.

As I pulled closer, a cock pheasant exploded out of the mix of snow and wheat stubble from a point directly below the hawk. I slowed. The pheasant sprinted at low altitude uncharacteristically close mouthed. I’m acquainted with that handsome rooster. He’s oft times talkative and boastful around the ladies. Though at the moment, he was flying towards some sanctuary beyond the silent boarders of humility. The hawk gave a half-hearted chase for a few strong flaps of his wings, landed on a parallel road, glanced nonchalantly at the Chinese take-out dinner escaping into the brush, then turned his head to look at me.

Wasn’t sure, but think he might have been one of my riding buddies from an area several miles north of where we were at the time. I immediately cranked the bike around in a U-turn to start home just in case it was his supper time instead of just fiddling-in-the-sky-and-teasing-the- geeky-pheasant time.

Cutting into the head wind slowed me down a might. Four miles an hour uphill into the arms of a gale resembles pretty good going when one contemplates the infinite mystery of bicycling air speed. High cadence kept my legs warm enough. Couldn’t say the same for the ridiculous fingerless gloves I wore for some odd reason.

Once to the top of the hill, I chanced to look over one shoulder. The hawk had followed, this time at an altitude of at least 75 feet. Ah, she was my old avian chum, the one who sometimes dines with and on our other wee pals who dwell in the fields. She recognized me, or at least she recalled the funky recumbent bike that she races alongside on lazy summer days. With a quick, neighborly flick of a wing tip she spun back around towards the south.

Upon arriving home I stabled the bicycle then hiked down a sandy single-track towards my own warm nest. Glancing up from shuffling feet, I spotted oldest son a half-mile off barreling along the same route that I’d just crossed. We traded a quick “Hiya!” as he whizzed past on his mountain bike, broad back straight in spite of a 25-pound pack loaded with paper books and electronic gizmos. His face glowed mottled-red from the cold, and the wind, and the strength, and the speed of youth.

Now indoors, I dug out a hunk of left-over beef steak, and a bottle of chilled brew from the larder. Tasty. And a smile arose as the slumbering molecules of life, barley and bovine, began to mingle with my own, to be reanimated anew as human flesh for a short while until my turn comes to be another’s meal.

Aye mates, a toast to the lone predators and sailors of the winter prairie. A toast to the balances and cycles of Life.

by John Snyder, November 9, 2000

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