Clinton’s Winter Cycling Lexicon

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.

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Winter Update : November 2013

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Idyllic winter riding.

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.

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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.

I was very happy to see this notice on Thursday night. It refers to snow-clearing rather than something more sinister.

I was very happy to see this notice on Thursday night. It refers to snow-clearing rather than something more sinister.

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.

Pros and Cons of Winter Cycling

PRO: A Winter Wonderland!

PRO: A Winter Wonderland!

CON: Long stretches of pure ice.

CON: Long stretches of pure ice.

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…

Spring Cycling (Edmonton Style)

Spring Snowstorm

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.

Riding through beautiful snowy Mill Creek Ravine.

Riding through beautiful snowy Mill Creek Ravine.

aking these photos while plowing through the snow with one hand on the bars and one hand holding the camera was....not easy.

Taking this photo while plowing through the snow with one hand on the bars and one hand holding the camera was….not easy.

Having taken the effort to snap these photos I'd hate to not use them on the bog.

Having taken the effort to snap these photos I’d hate to not use them on the blog.

One more...

One more…

Be careful where you set your bike down. You might not find it again.

Be careful where you set your bike down. You might not find it again.

Spring Snowstorm

I went for a short walk in the woods.

I went for a short walk in the woods.

Back on the roads for some contrast

Back on the roads for some contrast

Home again with a smile on my face.The winter beard earning its keep.

Home again with a smile on my face.The winter beard earning its keep.

More Errandonneuring!

Continuing with the Errandonnee Challenge I mentioned in my last post, here are Errands #4 through #8. And a few bonus photos, just ’cause I’m feeling generous (or maybe mean).

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.

Bikes for sale. Come and check them out! Choose one that has already been tuned up by  the volunteers or buy one as-is and fix it up yourself.

Bikes for sale. Come and check them out! Choose one that has already been tuned up by the volunteers or buy one as-is and fix it up yourself.

I started working on this old Kuwahara Savage MTB.  It's a bit scuffed up but will make a great stealth commuter (a sweet riding cromoly frame that most theives would't look twice at). BWN seems to be Kuwahara/Apollo central right now. There are several more.

I started working on this old Kuwahara Savage MTB. It’s a bit scuffed up but will make a great stealth commuter (a sweet riding cromoly frame c/w eyelets for racks and fenders that most thieves would’t look twice at). BWN seems to be Kuwahara/Apollo central right now. There are several more.

I also cleaned and oiled my own bike.

I also cleaned and oiled my own bike.

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.

I used the omnipresent Canadian Kickstand to get this picture.

I used the omnipresent Canadian Kickstand to get this picture.

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.

Gasp! The asphalt emerges! Dreams of riding speedy road bikes through summer  days momentarily overwhelm me.

Gasp! The asphalt emerges! Dreams of riding speedy road bikes through summer days momentarily overwhelm me.

I discover that

So that’s what was under the snow! I discover that the winter months have not been kind to the road surface (none too good to begin with). This area is due for repaving this summer.

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.

Note the bike racks made from old bike frames.

Note the bike racks made from old bike frames.

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.

Errand #8 Bike Lanes Meeting

There was a lot of local news media in attendance.

There was a lot of local news media in attendance.

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.

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

Edmonton: The City of Pyramids.

Edmonton: The City of Pyramids.

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.

Errandonnee Saturday

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.

Riding the well  cleared path beside the LRT tracks. A nearly empty train passes.

Riding the well cleared path beside the LRT tracks. A nearly empty train passing.

Downtown and the river valley.

Skirting the edge of the downtown core.

I detoured a little to get a picture overlooking the river valley. The trail down to the bridge seen on the left side of the photo was a fun, fast ride and I was pleased to see that it was well plowed and maintained.

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.

Slushy Saturday at the Farmer's Market.

Slushy Saturday at the Farmer’s Market.

Just  a little closeup pic  of the winter bike.

Just a little closeup pic of the winter bike.

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.

Bikeworks,, the community bike shop operated by the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters' Society.

BikeWorks, the community bike shop operated by the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society.

Piles of parts to keep the bikes of Edmonton commuters on the road.

Piles of parts to keep the bikes of Edmonton commuters on the road.

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:

There was still a little room left in my well worn 56L MEC pannier set.

There was still a little room left in my well worn 56L MEC pannier set.

Cycling fuel.

Cycling fuel.

This ratcheting friction shifter appears to be a copy of the old Suntour ones I have on my winter bike. I love those shifters and hopefully this will  b

This ratcheting friction shifter appears to be a copy of the old Suntour ones I have on my winter bike. I love those shifters and hopefully this’ll be a good spare.

I'm building up a MTB from an abandoned frame that I found last spring. Apparently it's almost impossible for me to build a bike without putting a rack on it. This solidly built aluminum seatpost rack should do the trick. It also has a sturdy quick release mounting clamp so I can remove it without much problem if  want.

I’m building up a MTB from an abandoned frame that I found last spring. Apparently it’s almost impossible for me to build a bike without putting a rack on it. This solidly built aluminum seatpost rack should do the trick. It also has a sturdy quick release mounting clamp so I can remove it without much problem if want.

Winter Bike Parking in Edmonton

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.

Save-On Foods (112 Ave and 82  St.) This is a hilariously perfect example. A completely snow free walkway and a buried rack. It actually as not been a problem, as there is enough room for two bikes at the rack, and I've never seen even one other.

Save-On Foods (112 Ave and 82 St.) This is a hilariously perfect example. A completely snow free walkway and a buried rack. It actually hasn’t been a problem, as there is enough room for two bikes at the rack, and I’ve never seen even one other.

Strathcona Farmer's Market. This one is a bit disappointing. I expect better of  Farmer's Market. Even in the winter there are usually a number of bikes parked outside. They should do a better job of keeping this rack free of snow.

Strathcona Farmer’s Market. This one is a bit disappointing. I expect better of Farmer’s Market. Even in the winter there are usually a number of bikes parked outside (such as the nifty Peugeot and Kuwahara seen here in the front). They should do a better job of keeping this rack free of snow.

Value Village  (Whyte Ave location). This one is pretty bad. The rack is one of the low ones and it's been covered almost completely. I locked my bike to the pole.

Value Village (Whyte Ave location). This one is pretty bad. The rack is one of the low ones and it’s been covered almost completely. I locked my bike to the pole. On the other hand, at least they have a rack, unlike the northside location.

Safeway (118th Ave & 82 St.) My local grocery  store is  the surprise winner in my small survey. The bike rack is always free of snow and has the bonus of being well lit and close to the doors. Congrats  Safeway! You get the Tuckamoredew Bike Parking Seal of Approval.

Safeway (118th Ave & 82 St.) My local grocery store is the surprise winner in my small survey. The bike rack is always free of snow and has the bonus of being well lit and close to the doors. Congrats Safeway! You get the Tuckamoredew Bike Parking Seal of Approval.

The Great New Year’s Day Bridge Ride

It was a slow starting day. I was less than lively on the New Year’s morning. Was it the late night? The perry, champagne and scotch? The cold I had felt starting to settle into my head the previous day? None of these things were going to stop me from having a good, long bike ride to start off 2013. The long stretch of frigid temps in the -20C range had finally broken and the afternoon promised a balmy 0C with brilliant sunshine.

After sleeping in and puttering around in kitchen cleaning up the detritus from the night’s get together it was nearly 1:30 before I was finally getting out the door. I had originally planned an ambitious trip through the entire length of the river valley trail system, from Hermitage Park to Terwilleger.  An honest assessment of my energy and the daylight hours available caused me to scale that back to just Hermitage to downtown. To ration my strength a little more I took my bike onto the LRT, riding the train to Clareview a short distance from the start of the trails.

The start of the ride. Northeast Edmonton.

The start of the ride. Northeast Edmonton.

Although the trails were cleared as I expected, I had made one significant miscalculation. I knew that there would be lots of other people using the trails on this beautiful New Year’s Day but I had not realized how many of them would be walking dogs. In the first couple of kilometers I must have encountered at least 50 people and more than a hundred off leash dogs. Progress was slow to start.

The trail choked with dog walkers. A sight to send a chill down the spine of a cyclist.

The trail choked with dog walkers. A sight to send a chill down the spine of a cyclist.

After passing the popular dog walking area I was able to make better time. I passed under a railway bridge, and the two bridges carrying the eastbound and westbound traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway.As I snapped photos of the bridges my theme for the day occurred to me. This was going to be a bridge ride. The railway bridge was made in 1908 only four years after Edmonton was incorporated as a city. The other two bridges were pretty functional affairs but I like the windows in the piers of the first and the simple cusp on the piers of the second.

Not much further along I approached the first of the many pedestrian bridges. I love the fact that at some point in the past the city council decided that building these bridges was a good idea. Having a number of these spans dedicated to non-motorized traffic really adds to the pleasure of using the trail system. This first one leads to the pleasantly post-apocalyptic Strathcona Science Park. While crossing the bridge I looked back and noticed a train passing over the railway bridge which annoyed me as I’d like to have been under it at the time. Looking over the bridge I spotted a number of ducks in the water, apparently content to remain in Edmonton through the winter. I can’t imagine why.

The trails in the science park weren’t  well cleared so I didn’t go far. I stopped at a snow covered picnic table and carved out a spot to have a snack: tea, cookies from my local bakery and a teeny celebratory sip on Macallan 12 year old scotch. On the way out of the park I stopped to help a young couple push their car from where it was stuck in the snow and back onto the road. There is something very satisfying about zipping up on a bike to help a stranded motorist. When my bike becomes stuck I can lift it free with one hand.

From here I crossed the river twice more on pedestrian bridges, the Ainsworth Dyer (Rundle Park) and the Capilano. The trail around Rundle park was cleared to the asphalt and I zipped along a good pace. I also crossed a little wooden bridge but I won’t include that in my total as it didn’t span the river.

I crossed under the multi-laned Capilano Bridge next and then pushed my bike up the stairs to the pedestrian walk way. Although there is a nice simple geometric appearance to the bridge from underneath, the top is completely without charm . It was a dirty, slushy crossing accompanied by the din of traffic.

By now the sun was setting and I started pushing the pace to wrap up the ride. My camera battery was also running out of energy. So were my legs. The last  crossings of the trip were the Dawson bridge, the Cloverdale pedestrian bridge and the Low Level Bridge. As I was snapping pics at the Low Level a couple of cyclists zipped passed and I got a shot one popping a wheelie.

Once back at street level I headed directly home, pleasantly tired. Over the course of the day I had passed under 3 bridges and crossed over 7 more, something I had never done before. Not a bad way to start the new cycling year.

Winter Night Ride With Instruments

At this time of year most of my riding is night riding as only 7 1/2 hours currently separate sunrise and sunset. When I do find myself pedaling in the sunlight the unaccustomed light blazing off the snow is blinding.The prospect of lengthening days is a good reason to celebrate the upcoming solstice.

A couple of weeks ago I set out to a gathering celebrating my friends’ 20th anniversary. I brought my cittern, mandolin and bodhran with me as there is always music to be played at their parties. The playing was varied and enjoyable with other musician’s playing guitar, harp, pennywhistle, irish flute, recorder and banjo. I had a chance to pick a few tunes on the banjo, a 1920’s short scale Triple X with the original skin head: fun and fast playing.

The cycling was gorgeous, as winter night riding can often be. The temperature was a tolerable -13C and there were great fat flakes of snow falling through the crisp air. I stopped on the High Level ridge to take a few pictures of the well lit adjacent LRT bridge. I also took a few rare winter cycling self photos. Riding a bike one-handed,  in the snow, over a bridge, in the dark with delicate musical instruments on my back. What could go wrong? Happily, nothing did and it was a lovely ride to end the evening.

Click on any photo to enlarge.