Local winter cycling veteran and fellow Bikeworks volunteer Robert Clinton has written a detailed lexicon naming the various snows and ices that winter cyclists encounter in Edmonton. There is also a heaping helping of winter cycling philosophy and tips on dealing with these assorted conditions described. I’ve added this document to a new winter cycling tab at the top of my blog and I hope to add some photos of the various snows and ices at some point. Check it out if you ride in winter conditions, are thinking of doing so, or are just morbidly curious about the mindset that produces a winter cyclist. It’s a detailed treatise, so get a hot beverage before you settle down to read.
This year November was a wintry month: from the early snowfall at the beginning of the month, to the subsequent sheets of ice, to the later heavy snowfalls. The river valley was blanketed with a heavy layer of beautiful, sparkling powder and there was some truly wonderful winter bike commuting. For a brief, but glorious time my trips to and from work coincided with stunning sunrises and sunsets. I was late for work two mornings in a row to due gawking at the sunrise. There was also a cold snap that lasted nearly a week with morning commuting temperatures as low as -24°C. That felt a bit unfair so early in the winter. I have lodged a formal complaint with the authorities.
The cold snap did allow the snow on the roads to be packed down into a hard surface resulting in easy cycling. Unfortunately, the following week the temperature was near or above the freezing point most days, causing all that lovely hardpack to loosen up into a deep morass of brownish, oatmeal-like snow. It stubbornly refused to repack, resulting in a weary week of paddle-wheeling my way to work. That kind of riding is actually pretty fun in small doses. A full week’s worth, on the other hand…not so much.
The city crews had their hands full with the snow clearing. In one week alone we had more snow come down than we usually average for the entire month. Main roads were cleared only to be promptly buried again. The side roads mostly had to wait. Of course, a lot of my commute is on side roads. On the bright side, the multi-use trails were very promptly and consistently cleared.
My neighbourhood streets have now been well cleared of snow, just in time for the major snowstorm expected to hit tonight. Wheeeee!
The winter conditions wore me down a bit in November, and I spent very little time reading blogs and almost none writing them. In December I hope to be a bit more active. Also, as a new feature, there will be a series of guest blogs by Edmonton winter cycling vetran and EBC stalwart, Robert Clinton.
Yes, here we are again with a blog post inaugurating a new season of winter cycling in Edmonton. Saturday night’s snowfall transformed the landscape into a mix of winter wonderland and tortuously icy roads. I’ve been for a few rides in the new conditions and I think I’m getting my winter cycling mojo back a bit more quickly than last year. Of course, we haven’t yet had a really big snowfall yet, or a real blast of arctic temperatures…
This is what the second day of spring looked like here in Edmonton. During the mild weather of late February and early March I was getting used to riding on asphalt again. Dreams of zipping about on summer bikes were starting to overwhelm me. No worries about that happening soon. I am fully back in winter cycling mode.
It was a pretty good spring snowstorm that settled in on my fair city on Thursday. The morning ride to work was through an idyllic winter wonderland. The snow was falling heavily but had only accumulated a couple of inches deep. It was such a perfect winter morning (pardon me, spring morning) that I was tempted to call in sick at work and spend the day cycling. Instead, I dutifully toiled the day away on the huge backlog of work while frequently glancing out the window at the ever deepening snow. During my lunch break I went out for a quick ride around the industrial neighbourhood and had a lot of fun.
The ride home promised to be interesting. The radio was reporting the closure of major roads and many accidents. There was a 100 vehicle pile up on the QE2 highway with as many injuries. One of the trucks was hauling a load of cattle that had to be moved from the scene of the accident. I can only imagine the chaos. It took 12 hours for the police to get the highway open to traffic again. The news reports presented such a dire image that our boss shut the shop down 2 hours early and sent us home.
I am pleased to report that my ride home was tranquil and pleasant. My route was through lightly traveled residential roads and the MUPs. Close to a foot of gorgeous white powder had blanketed the city streets. In these conditions you just stick to the low gears and churn steadily and slowly along. Sometimes, the back wheel acts more like a riverboat paddlewheel than anything else. On the rare occasion that a motor vehicle approached me from behind I pulled over to the side and let them pass. On days like this you can’t be sure that drivers have control over their vehicles. On most occasions the motorists gave me a friendly thank you wave for the courtesy. It’s nice when cyclists and drivers can get along like this.
As approached my usual entrance to the trail system I found that the way was completely blocked by a car that had slid down into the trail.. I stopped to talk to the woman in the car to see if she was OK. She was fine and told me that she was calling for a tow truck but was on hold. Later that night I heard on the news that people could expect to wait for up to 6 hours for non-emergency tows. I wonder how long she was there
The ride through the ravine was beautiful. I was the only cyclist and I saw very few pedestrians. It was a real pleasure to break fresh tracks through the deep snow. I stopped frequently to snap photos and shoot a little bit of video. I only had to resort to pushing my bike at a few spots. All the while I was happy to not be in a vehicle creeping along the main roads through the glacially slow traffic.
As I neared home I found that the trail by the LRT tracks had been plowed. This was a very happy way to end the ride. I arrived at my house wobbly legged and drenched in sweat but quite content.
ERRAND #4: Sunday Afternoon, Volunteering at Bikeworks North.
Normally BWN isn’t open on Sundays, but during the water problems at the south shop it was announced that BWN would be open instead. Even though the water was restored in time for the weekend we still opened the north shop. The shop is only a 5 minute pedal from my house so I popped over to put in a few hours. While there I spent a little while salvaging some hubs from a couple of damaged rims, starting tuning up another bike, and helped a fellow who was working on his first wheel build.
ERRAND #5: Sunday Evening, Purchasing a new printer at Futureshop:
Our old printer died a little while ago and my wife has been in dire need of a replacement (me, I didn’t use it often). After finishing at Bikeworks I headed downtown to buy another printer. I’m picked one with a small foot print as space is at a premium in our small house. Even so, it was about as big a package as I was equipped to carry on my bike. The main routes with bare pavement were no problem but the box slid around a bit on the heavily rutted side streets. Nonetheless, the printer arrived home intact and is now installed and working perfectly.
ERRAND #6: Tuesday. Work. Again. Wheee.
I was treated to another gorgeous sunrise on the way to work this morning but was running late, so I can offer no photo. After work I snapped a few pics of the road conditions near my workplace. These are on an official bike route. The unseasonably warm weather has continued and so real, honest to goodness asphalt is emerging from under the thick snow hard pack. The city keeps the main roads cleared to the asphalt ( and does a pretty good job) but only blades residential roads to a 5 cm snowpack. They kept up on this through the first part of the winter but have been falling behind a bit and in many areas there is a good 6 inches or more of rutted, hard packed snow and ice.
ERRAND #7: Tuesday evening, Grocery Shopping at Earth’s General Store
EGS is conveniently located on my homeward route and I occasionally stop to pick up foodstuffs there. I was disappointed to find that they were out of Ohsawa Namu Shoyu soya sauce. Best…soya sauce…ever. On the other hand, that stuff ain’t cheap. I did come away with numerous other items.
ERRAND # 8 Tuesday evening. City of Edmonton community meeting on bike lane projects for 2013.
This was one of two open house meetings that the city is holding to communicate the bike infrastructure plans for the 2013 construction season. This meeting was held in a school right next to one of the bike routes and was well attended with neighbourhood residents and cyclists: at least a hundred people, maybe more. Rolled out on long tables were maps of the proposed work, with post-it pads so people could make comments about specific issues. City engineers were present at the various tables to answer questions. I watched the presentation, left a couple of comments, chatted with a couple of other bike commuting types I knew, and I headed for home.
THE TRIP HOME: Tuesday evening
Not at all related to the errands, but it was a beautiful night so I stopped to take a few pictures on the way home.
The pyramids are the Muttart plant conservatory, a green haven during the bleak winter months. At night they are well lit and change colour….a lot.
MG over at the blog Chasing Mailboxes D.C. has issued a winter utility cycling challenge: The Errandonnee. Participants must complete 12 cycling errands within 12 days and ride at least 30 miles while doing so. Documentation of the errands is required, including photos and a randonneuring inspired (could you tell from the term Errandonnee?) control card. Errands fall into 11 categories of which you must complete at least 7, using each category no more than twice. For more details on the rules of the challenge, check out this post.
This seems a natural for me as I’m pretty much in pure errand mode these days. I haven’t been on a purely recreational ride since my New Year’s Day Bridge Ride. It should put a bit of fun in my daily pedaling around the city.
ERRAND #1: EARLY MORNING COMMUTE
I don’t normally work Saturdays but we’re swamped right now. I’d agreed to go in and open the shop so that myself and two other employees could clock some overtime and chip away at the backlog for a few hours in the morning. This past week I’ve been enjoying the lengthening days and some beautiful sunrises on my morning commute. Today, however, I was going in an hour earlier than normal so it was back to commuting in the dark.This was useful for the purposes of the Errandonee, as two of the errands must take place during the hours of darkness. The pre-dawn temperature was a balmy 3°C, a pleasant change from the statistical average low of -16°C for this date.
ERRAND #2: GROCERY RUN
We called it a day at noon and after locking up the shop I headed off to the Strathcona Farmer’s Market to pick up some groceries for the coming week. I had noted in my last blog post that the Market wasn’t doing a great job of keeping the bike racks clear. Today the bike racks were so snow covered as to be unusable so I locked up to a lamp post. After a quick trip through the market my panniers were well filled (and heavy) with food. Onwards to the last errand of the day.
ERRAND #3: BIKEWORKS SOUTH
Since Bikeworks North opened in my neighbourhood early last year I haven’t got down to the south shop very often. As I was in the area, I zipped over to say hello to the south volunteers and rummage through the used parts room for any handy odds & ends. After having been shut down for a week because of a water problem elsewhere in the building, there were a gaggle of volunteers in the shop. I found a couple of items I could use and headed home.
HOME WITH THE GOODS:
The ride home was fun even if the slush, ice and brown sugar were making things messy. My total Errandonneuring distance was about 22km. This is only approximate as I don’t have a bike computer on my winter bike (they tend to freeze when it’s sub-zero) but I’m well familiar with the distances for my regular destinations. Here’s what I brought home with me:
As a year round commuting cyclist, poor winter maintenance of bike parking locations is something I should probably be annoyed about. It’s true that a lot of businesses seem to regard the bike rack as the logical place to dump the snow they shovel from walkways. After all, nobody cycles in winter. If they do, they’re probably crazy enough that you don’t want them wandering into your retail establishment.
In practice, it doesn’t usually bother me. There actually are less cyclists competing for rack space in the winter so I can usually manage to find a spot.
There should be no expectation of finding statistical significance in the contents of this blog post. My sample size is a whopping four parking locations that correspond to the times that I actually had my camera with me and I remembered to take a photo.