Monday, December 30, 2013

Significant Snow Wrong Bike

As a cyclist and full time bike commuter I am pretty in tune with the weather forecast and situation.  I am outside all the time.  5 days a week, generally, I spend 2+ hours outside biking to and fro work.  I depend on accurate weather forecasts to know how to dress and what bike to ride.  This morning it said it would be ungodly cold, below zero F, and windy.  Perhaps a flurry or two of snow but measurable snow was a day or two away.  I grabbed the Trek 520 so I could raid the grocery store on my way home.

At 4 am it was cold, 1 above 0 F, but the wind was basically calm, 3 mph from the east instead of the 30 mph from the NW.  Tailwind and reduction in windchill.  Good.  The ride to work was not bad at all.  Dress up like an astronaut and ride to the west.  Be thankful that yesterdays horrid wind has subsided.  When I checked the temperature once I arrived at work it had actually improved by 1 degree.

A few hours later I looked out the window. It was snowing.  Everyone was surprised.  Some said it was supposed to be north of Des Moines.  Nobody thought it would add up.  I was feeling anxious.  The 520 has road tires.  Kenda Kwest 700x35 slicks.  No tread, just water sipes.  As long as the snow did not add up I'd be fine.  But it added up.  By the time I got out it was already 2".  Silent white death.

My chosen route home: Clive Greenbelt.  No desire to play with cars today.  They had enough issues with each other and did not need me.  I gambled that Saturday's heat wave of 51F would have melted and evaporated the remaining snow on that trail.  Any remnants would be buried in the fresh snow but the new snow would add traction.  That's the problem when the snow plow leaves 1/2" of snow on a trail that is almost totally in the shade.  Snow and ice remain until Spring.

The last major snow was 8 days ago.  Although the city plowed the trail, leaving its customary 1/2" of snow for us to trample and turn to ice, they did not clear the turn off to the trail from the sidepath on 128th St.  Last week I rode in the snow covered grass to reach the trail.  But last week's snow is now hard and crunchy and likes to catch wheels.  Fun.

Once on the Greenbelt trail proper I began a slow journey toward Windsor Heights.  Two sets of bicycle tracks and two sets of joggers footprints to follow.  Sometimes these tracks would reveal the ice underneath.  Prospects of a long ride.  I only biffed once, landing on my side at slow speed.  Time to exit the trail ASAP.  I took the park's road out to Swanson Blvd and then took the streets all the way to 86th St.  These were clear albeit wet and dirty.  But no more crashes.

There is a sidepath on the north side of University from 86th to 73rd St.  I took that to the relief of many cars that waited behind me at the red light.  And when the path ran out I stayed on the sidewalk until I reached Windsor Heights Hy Vee.  Here is where I met Mary.  We shopped then hit the trail together.

Since the cities of Des Moines and Windsor Heights plow their trails properly the only thing I had to fight was the 2 to 3" of fresh snow.  The tires and bike performed well, even fully loaded =with groceries.  I would forget that I had tires meant for Ragbrai not BRR.  The 520 plowed nicely with the occasional bark of when I hit ice.  No crashes.  It even climbed the snow covered ice run off at Colby Park were the work on the I-235 overpass revealed poor drainage.  Sure, the rear wheel broke loose once but not swinging or swaying.  Even better was taking the trail underneath the newly reopened Grand Ave bridge.  Trail surface akin to kitty litter and a steep climb out of it.  The bike did not protest at all.

We followed tracks left by up to 5 other bikes including a fat bike or two.  But we saw only one other ride.  David Lanham was riding home from work.  We stopped and chatted.  He said that the ride was enjoyable.  I had to agree.  It was 18F outside and the wind was calm.  Fresh snow covered the ugly brown dead world below. The cheap Kenda tires were handling quite well.  Anything that would make them slip would make most not studded tire bikes slip as well.  Easy on the speed, easy on braking and watch the turns.  I made it home safely with a bike load of groceries.

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