My icy commute: How was yours?

snowy bike lane on Interstate-2

Stay away from shiny spots.
Going south on N. Interstate Ave.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Now that was a bit scary.

I just arrived at our office in the Central Eastside after a challenging and harrowing ride from North Portland. I consider myself a pretty skilled rider, but with many streets covered in a sheet of ice, there’s really no chance of staying upright.

I was doing fine until about the Rose Garden; then I had a major slide-out. Luckily, I managed to keep myself and my bike within the bike lane (there were cars just a few feet away). After my fall, I got up, and then fell right back on my rear end!

The rest of the way to work, I either walked or rode cautiously on the sidewalk.

I only saw two other riders — and one, riding down SE Salmon was flying over his handlebars.

While riding, I thought of a few ice biking tips that you might find useful:

  • Use the widest tires possible, and consider lowering the air pressure a bit for better traction.
  • Begin to think about stopping long before the intersection.
  • Don’t (!) rely on your brakes. I found dragging my foot on the ground to be more reliable.
  • Keep equal and constant pressure on your pedals — don’t accelerate suddenly.
  • Try to keep your body weight centered over your wheels.
  • Ride as smoothly as possible. Gently lean into turns instead of turning your bars.
  • On roads, ride in the parking lane if possible (less ice).
  • When possible, ride on the sidewalk.
  • When in doubt, walk or just stay home.

The freezing temps are expected to be here all week. I would really advise caution and consider not riding on the ice at all if you can avoid it.

Did you ride today? How was your ice-biking experience? Share your tips/mishaps/adventures below…

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Hart
Hart
13 years ago

Keeping one foot dangling whenever possible helps a lot. Dragging to a stop is definitely the way to go.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

I fell a couple of times last year on one icy morning. It was enough to convince me that it is not worth a broken bone and long recouperation.

I rode around the neighborhood for fun but drove to work. This was the fifth day this year I have driven to work, so not too bad. Given the hype, there were very few people out on the roads and PDOT had done an excellent job. I did notice that plowing activity shunted snow into the bike lanes.

Be careful out there.

Curtis R
Curtis R
13 years ago

I haven’t been bike commuting much since my son came along 6 years ago, but I used to use studded bike tires and chains (“Pitbull” brand) and found them to work very well. In fact, one day I only fell when I stopped and put my foot down.

Mark P.
Mark P.
13 years ago

I think the longer wheelbase on the X helped. What didn’t help was the light rear wheel, I had to pedal softly! Luckily, my commute doesn’t involve any hills.

Dan
Dan
13 years ago

I slipped and fell pretty close to my house. After that I put the bike back in the garage and walked to the bus stop.

I had fun riding around on Sunday in the snow, but the ice this morning is pretty dangerous.

I really wanted to bike today, but I decided it just wasn’t worth the risk.

Tim
Tim
13 years ago

I made some chains for my bicycle last winter and rode through all sorts of missouri winter conditions without any problems.

I even seeked out some ice and purposely tried to slip a tire….could not.

Email me at greenteammow@yahoo.com if anyone wants some pics and instructions.

This only works if you have disc brakes….my plans anyway.

Paul Manson
13 years ago

I ended up taking SE Stark most of the way into work since the tire ruts were well sanded or even clear of ice. Traffic was pretty light too. Riding the side streets was the trickiest.

Going home maybe a little more interesting, the sun and wind might make the side streets worse.

Elly Blue (Columnist)
13 years ago

If you’ve got to go out in the snow, I highly recommend checking out the riding techniques section at http://www.icebike.com

I’m riding a Brompton folding bike on loan from Clever Cycles — more on that later — it performed amazingly well on the ice, thanks to its low center of gravity and upright riding posture that keeps most of the weight on the back wheel.

Despite this the 4 mile ride in to work this morning took every ounce of focus and concentration I could muster — and about 45 minutes. It was physically and mentally exhausting! I only fell once, turning of course.

Bent Bloke
Bent Bloke
13 years ago

I telecommuted today. My recumbent has slicks, and the route is hilly. Plus the wind in Outer SE is howling, and with the 19° temp this morning, that’s a recipe for frostbite.

I’ll bus in the rest of the week.

Bent Bloke
Bent Bloke
13 years ago

Oh, and all I want for xmas is a fairing! ;o)

a.O
a.O
13 years ago

I think the best tip for riding on ice is: Don’t.

I suffered the indignity of a bus ride this morning and will do so again this evening. Nothing wrong with the bus, but for those of us who are so used to our own commuting self-reliance, it’s a little like having your wings clipped. Still, better safe than sorry.

bahueh
bahueh
13 years ago

riding should be better on Wednesday if we get more snow….

then there is the little forecast prospect of a FOOT of snow this weekend?

crazy if it arrives…

bhance
13 years ago

I ate it once on the way in, but not too bad. Saw a single rider – on the esplanade – but hardly another soul in sight. Peaceful and quiet 🙂

sauce
sauce
13 years ago

Fat Franks and a coaster brake on my cruiser have been rolling over the and snow without any problems.

Mitch Conner
Mitch Conner
13 years ago

I tried this morning and ended up on my ass. I’m bruised but fine. I was riding a fixed gear using my homemade chains. Still, I went down quick and hard. Not worth it until the ice isn’t a issue in the mornings.

Karrla
Karrla
13 years ago

Had a Blast. Reading icebike.com last night gave me the encouragement and a few tips, like avoiding using the front brake.

My 5 miles commute including the Hawthorne bridge was slow, but fun. Much better than driving or riding the bus.

Ride: Rocky Mountain full suspension, low air in the tires, and zip ties over the wheels (they acted and sounded like tire chains :).

Ride home: might include a bit more walking… and/or the bus.

embrace “Arctic Blast 2008”

GLV
GLV
13 years ago

“I suffered the indignity of a bus ride this morning ”

Cavorting with the proles, you poor thing.

Joe
Joe
13 years ago

I got caught on some black ice, it wanted my skin.. haha i’m going to drop the tire
pressure, having a foot out helps.

crazy day in the saddle for sure..

Zaphod
13 years ago

I’m contemplating an elective journey out of my telecommuting spot to a cafe. I’m debating between the mountain bike, the cross bike and the Xtracycle. I took the kid on an Xtracycle adventure (ok… just to the grocery store but still) in yesterday’s snowwy conditions. I delicately rolled along, staying on snow and avoiding shiny ice. It was really stable and easy but conditions are probably far more dire today. I fear that there’s no hiding from the ice. I have decent bike handling skills but no expertise saves you from sheet ice.

The question is which bike is optimal?

PdxMark
PdxMark
13 years ago

With just a 4.5 mile commute, it wasn’t bad at all. The back streets were a glaze of ice, so I skipped those in favor of the main roads with their cinders/sand and more-broken snow/ice appearance.

It was maybe the first time that i thought my upright Breezer city bike was functionally better than my fixie for a commute ride. The wide 26″ tires were a help, but so was a new technique I copied from a riders I saw yesterday. During any descent on ice or approach to a stop, I simply put both feet down just above, or sliding along the ground as safety outriggers. It would be hard to do with the fixie pedals coming around, but with the Nexus hub on the Breezer I felt quite comfortable even on pretty-well glazed-ice descents.

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

I almost bussed it this morning, but I’m actually glad I rode. I used my cross bike with mud 2’s at 35psi, and only started slipping a couple times in 6 miles. Just like in a car – do everything slower than normal, stay calm, and know your limits.

Kronda
13 years ago

@Zaphod #19:

I have the exact same array of choices (I hadn’t considered the folding bike, but maybe that’s a good option too). I hope you’ll comment again if/once you decide and let us know how it went. School’s closed so I don’t *have* to go out, but was thinking of a test ride around the block or to the store just to check things out and take a homework break.

Jeremy R.
Jeremy R.
13 years ago

After watching the many mishaps this weekend from my apt. window of cyclists going down and struggling, I decided to rely on my ultimate all-terrain vehicle: Me. I threw on my trusty trail running shoes and had a nice jog commute into work. It was a pleasant jog, and I didn’t go down once. For best traction, I stayed on the crunchy and/or untraveled snow.
Best of luck.

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

“The question is which bike is optimal?”

My theory is that a narrow cross tire will do better than a wide mtb tire, as you’ll be distributing your weight over a smaller area and encouraging the tire to bite into the snow/ice more.

From what I understand, winter rally cars do something similar – they have very narrow tires with huge studs, so they can dig way down into the surface to find purchase.

theandy
theandy
13 years ago

the karate monster with aired down exiwolfs has done remarkably well in the snow and even on the ice. i can credit much of my survival to my crosscrusade skillz.

tonite however i am throwing my pos pearlizumi gloves into a bonfire. absolute garbage once temps fall below, say, 55 and sunny.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

I had to drive yesterday to check on my grandfather, and I witnessed something very scary.

I was on SE Division, traveling east, and a Cyclist was coming at me westbound. He was on the right hand part of his lane, and about 10 feet behind him was a subaru. He took a sharp and quick left turn in the direct path of the subaru. His bike slid out from under him and he fell straight down in the path of the subaru! I thought for sure he was going to get squished but luckily the subaru was able to swerve (Though he nearly had to go up on the sidewalk) and the cyclist was able to jump up and get out of the way. It was the closest, scariest thing I had seen in a long time.

If you are going ride, please, PLEASE be careful and be smart.

Chad
Chad
13 years ago

Left the fixie at home and took out the ol’ Schwinn Suburban with extra weight in the panniers and had no trouble what-so-ever…of course I have the advantage of being from Minnesota where the streets are like this four to five months out of the year.

Icarus falling
Icarus falling
13 years ago

Actually, to contradict the ice riding info here;

Riding on narrower, road tires is the way to go on ice and snow.

I ride 23 to 25’s, and deflate them a little.

In my many years of on road experience, this has always proven to be the way to go.

Less tire on the road equals more grip, strangely.

And a fixed gear drive train is very fun, and very effective, on the ice and snow, for that matter.

Coyote
Coyote
13 years ago

Wide tires and long wheelbases give you more time correct a slide or get a foot down. Narrow tires and high pressures do have more traction, but when they slide you go down fast.

Foot dragging for stopping works well, just remember when your foot is on the ground you are taking weight off the tires and reducing traction even more.

Stay off the front brake.

Kevin
Kevin
13 years ago

Last night I rode from inner SE to NW 23rd and back. I only fell once on a turn on the way home. I chose my Kona hardtail instead of the fixie or xtracycle. I would think the MTB would be better for a few reasons. The frame geometry usually puts you back on the rear wheel for better traction, the wider tires have a wider contact patch for more friction and I can plow through just about anything! I found that staying towards the curb with built up snow and gravel gave me the most confindence.

Dave @ 23: wouldn’t skinnier tires only work if you have studs? With so much ice there isn’t much for a skinny tire to drive into. Maybe we should undertake a science experiment?

Carice
Carice
13 years ago

I’m not so scared of falling myself- I’m not moving that fast, and I have a good helmet, but I don’t ride in icy snow, I am too afraid that someone driving a huge steel clad vehicle will hit ice and slide into me. It’s public transportation for me when it’s icy outside!

Kevin
Kevin
13 years ago

Icarus: I think I am going to try that today!

Roger
Roger
13 years ago

I rode in from Vancouver to downtown this morning without incident. No slipping or falling, but it was pretty scary out there. I am taking the Max to the Expo tonight, the roads weren’t bad in Vancouver or Hayden Island so my commute home shouldn’t be too bad.

ben
ben
13 years ago

Try using studded tires. Illegal for cars great for you.

Val
Val
13 years ago

So, I know y’all don’t want to hear it again, but as I said last year (and the year before): STUDS. Yep, they work, and my Sunday commute of 19 miles each way with several miles of 8 – 10% grade proved it (once again) to my satisfaction – not one wipout. Not really necessary for snow, but on the solid ice, there’s nothing like ’em. Let the whining about price, weight, and convenience commence.

Schrauf
Schrauf
13 years ago

My studded Schwalbe Marathon Winters have been useful recently, but I wish the studs were a little larger. They do bite in fairly well, however.

The thick sheet ice we have on the residential strees on the South Hill of Spokane is about the worst I have ridden. Even my Subaru could not make it up several steep hills without studs or chains. Having said that, the ice on my bike commute this morning at eight degrees probably provided more traction than what you have in Portland right now at 25 degrees. And ice at 32 degrees is about as bad as it gets.

On the other thread I saw the comment about putting multiple zip ties around each tire. Brilliant! Won’t help for sideways washouts, but will do wonders for straight line stopping.

Josh
13 years ago

I took the car option in to work today. But yesterday I took my new recumbent trike out for a spin with the help of some zip ties around the rear tire.

http://flickr.com/photos/occipital/

Adam
Adam
13 years ago

Riding in today on my single speed road bike went just fine. I live near Gresham and only have about a four mile ride. I normally ride along Powell for the vast majority of my ride. Today I did the same but took advantage that there was hardly anyone driving around this morning. I took the lane of traffic when clear to get to clean asphalt. Whenever I saw a car coming from behind I cautiously moved over towards the bike lane where it was icy. Fortunately no slides or spills for me this morning. Now if only I can survive the ride home! Maybe we can get some sort of main arterial bike lane maintenace going as well see how this is supposed to be a Platinum city.

Schrauf
Schrauf
13 years ago

Click my name for pictures of the Schwalbe Marathon Winters on my winter bike. Unfortunately $75 a pop. At least they should last several winters.

http://nw-meanderings.blogspot.com/2008/11/shiny-new-studs.html

Cablenut
13 years ago

did you use the ice-biking tires…the ones with studs?

I am considering going to pick up a pair today. Hrrrrm.

Steve
Steve
13 years ago

honestly, there is no shame in not biking (or NOT DRIVING) when the road is a sheet of ice. these type of conditions scream FATALITY WAITING TO HAPPEN. we do have a great transit system here in Portland, use it! consider it a mass transit vacation, read a book and relax as you are taken to your destination without risking your life.

I speak specifically of the aforementioned likelihood that a car might run you over after you take an unexpected spill. Be careful out there, folks.

xor bitwise
xor bitwise
13 years ago

i just now (approx 12:55p) was listening to “all classical” (89.9) radio, and the two women talking between songs (i think one was the dj and maybe the other was news/weather? i wasnt really listening to their voices) caught my attention.

they were talking about the weather and the drive to work and said something to the effect of:

“i saw some very dedicated bike commuters this morning.

wow.

people are tough here, wow.”

so i thought it was a nice little shout-out to those of you who braved it on two wheels this morning.

chuck
13 years ago

the lady and I went out for a late night ride last night. just got done moving, and too icy out last night to try to trek downtown for zoobomb, so we just messed around a little bit in our new neighborhood. she took out her mini, and I brought out my 24″ bmx cruiser. I had a blast with ice-assisted power slides, including a full 180 with both feet planted, astride my bike.

today’s commute wasn’t that bad. took the lane where there was gravel on irving, traffic was moving slow and infrequent enough that I didn’t encounter a car going the same direction as me. the holy rollers I have on the 24″ are holding up pretty well. surprisingly enough, out here by the airport there’s not too much ice or snow on the streets. no buildings in the area means more direct sunlight to melt it. hopefully it doesn’t get too crazy once the sun goes down. my ride home might be significantly more treacherous.

Andrea
Andrea
13 years ago

I had a two good falls on my ride to work. One was my fault (rounded the corner at a bad angle and a bit too quickly). The second was because the wind blew me over on an icy road (a passing car slowed to ask me if I was all right – thanks!). I wish I had some time lapse on the bruise that’s been slowly getting more blue on my knee! I’m thinking about the bus for the ride home.

travis
13 years ago

my bike is not feelin the ice. i work at 6:30am and decided to just drive. i felt bad (not morally, just bad from not getting a morning ride in), until i was able to help my bike commuting co-workers with rides home for them and their bikes….

much respect to all who braved it on 2 wheels. i wish i had a mountain bike! be safe out there!

foul weather biker
foul weather biker
13 years ago

I’m riding my mountain bike today… I found it’s helpful to think of the ice as really, really slick mud. The bike reacts in a similar way (the fall is just more painful…).

Coyote
Coyote
13 years ago

#4 sheet metal screws driven from the inside out through the tread lugs make a fine DIY studded tire. I used pan head screws and covered the heads with good quality duct tape. You will need to figure out how long a screw to get depending on the tire. You want about an eighth sticking out of the tire. I used cheap mountain bike tires from Bi-Mart and about 50 screws. I probably had $15 in the whole project.

I never bothered with a back studded tire, but the front gave a real confidence boost in conditions like these. I gave my last one away to the neighbor kid last winter. He got where he could do a 360 with his feet up.

Beware of studs like these. The are wicked sharp and could easily cut somebody up in a wreck.

John Lascurettes
13 years ago

Fell once at MLK and Knott. Otherwise, rode in at about 4-8mph the whole way in to downtown (5.5mi). I did that on slicks.

I ordered some studded tires from biketiresdirect.com (local shop with one day shipping, or even a pick-up option). They’ve got a low end model for only $25/tire.

Also saw last year’s bikeportland tip on using zip ties. Might do that to get home tonight. http://bikeportland.org/2007/01/17/ziptie-your-tire-for-better-traction/

McAngryPants
McAngryPants
13 years ago

‘spect to all that rode today. I gots skinny tires and…um…oh yeah, I HATE FALLING ON ICE. I trudged on trimet with the rest of the plebs. ugh. JUST put on my new set of Armadillos.

andy
andy
13 years ago

All TriMet this week! It’s a good opportunity to replace my bottom bracket and do some other maintenance work on my bike, anyway.