Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Riding in the "off" season

Lighted hulks speeding past
Last Thursday was a very warm and pleasant early January day. In the evening I paused at Speer and Lawrence to capture the Titan during the last moments of twilight. Regardless of Denver's reputation, it's actually not consistently snowy here throughout the winter. We had an unprecedented streak of snow-less fall-like weather, all the way through to the beginning of January. However, that all changed by Sunday with our first real snow of winter.

Once the snow started the temperature stayed fairly cold, so the snow remained powdery. This morning was about as cold as it has been in quite a while here: -3F (-20C). I'm no snow expert but as far as bike riding and snow goes, I've spent a lot of time riding in snowy or icy conditions and have encountered several variants in snow conditions that affect the road surface. Most people from snowy climates are probably familiar with how differing road conditions affect car driving, but the affect on bikes is somewhat different. On my ride this morning, I encountered the following snow types.

Fresh powder makes for fun riding in depths of about 6 inches or less. The tires just seem to push the snow out of the way, as if riding through fluffy drifts of styrofoam particles. As long as there is no ice hidden under the powder it's no problem.

Ravenous snowflake eater running through the powder on the night of the snowfall
Packed powder is surprisingly good for traction, provided overconfidence doesn't get the best of you. Occasional soft spots can cause spin outs. As with this and any other surface that is potentially slick, it's important to attempt to keep close to vertical when making turns and plan ahead for braking.

Packed powder probably at least a couple of inches in thickness
Ice/compacted snow is what occurs on arterial streets with a sufficient combination of traffic and chemicals such as magnesium chloride. This condition of partially broken clumps and slick surfaces is generally less desirable for riding than side streets.
A bit slicker than it looks but not bad going
The Dummy has typical 2.0" knobbies, nothing special. They seem to work fine for most conditions.

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