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Icy roads make for a nerve-wracking commute (plus some tips)

Posted by on January 11th, 2013 at 8:51 am

Overnight moisture and freezing
temps this morning.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Lots of people went down while biking into work today due to icy roads that made this morning’s riding conditions extremely tricky. Unlike my past experiences with ice, there weren’t just a few patches in obvious spots. In several sections of my ride into downtown (from north Portland), it seemed like the entire road had a thin sheet of ice on it.

I have heard many reports of people who went down. One of our friends on Twitter reported, “Ice is coating bike lanes on N Williams and nearby. Lots of bikes down.” Another person shared, “Cyclist was down at the esplanade/rose quarter bridge. Very icy section there.” We even heard a report that Ladd Circle in southeast is “very icy.”

I managed to stay upright for my entire ride; but I was surprised that my rear tire spun out on three occasions as I accelerated from stop signs (can’t remember the last time that happened). On the Broadway Bridge, I noticed a woman walking. I stopped and walked with her after noticing the entire mid-section of the bridge (the part that’s got the non-slip coating) was very slippery. Her name was Connie. She said she had fallen and her chain came off so she just decided to walk the rest of the way into work. I nearly slipped and fell over myself just trying to take her photo!

If these conditions keep up. Here are a few tips:

  • If possible, take transit or work from home.
  • Lower your tire pressure to increase traction.
  • Slow down.
  • Take your feet off your inside pedal (like a dirt motorcycle rider) when going around sharp and/or potentially icy corner.
  • Consider using platform pedals (not cleats) if you don’t already.
  • When in doubt, walk.
  • Keep your head up and watch for other vehicles that might lose traction and slide into you.
  • Ride as upright as possible and distribute your weight evenly over both wheels.
  • Lower your saddle to make it easier to quickly dismount.

How did it go for you this morning? Share tips and experiences below…

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Joe
Guest
Joe

I got a ride with someone today into work by car. Saw a woman fall on N Vancouver and luckily looked unhurt. Then saw a car do a 360 on the top of the Fremont Bridge. Be careful out there!

Blake
Guest
Blake

Based on what I’ve heard about road conditions, I’m just throwing in the towel and taking transit. Not even going to try riding on the ice.

jim
Guest
jim

buses slide around too

rob
Guest
Spiffy
Guest

they look like they may be effective for going straight…

but studded tires will probably be banned any year now…

John Lascurettes
Guest

Actually, studded tires work fantastically on bikes. Didn’t need them today though. Ice wasn’t bad enough yet.

Glen K
Guest

We don’t get a lot of ice/snow here in Christchurch, but at least one enterprising punter created some very effective home-made snow-chains and tyres:
http://cyclingchristchurch.co.nz/general-a2b-by-bike/snow-chains-on-bikes/, and
http://cyclingchristchurch.co.nz/general-a2b-by-bike/snow-chains-cope-well-with-ice-on-the-raods/

Opus the Poet
Guest

Something not often mentioned is that if you have limited funds you get a bigger bang for the buck by putting a single studded tire on the front wheel. It’s possible to regain control over a rear wheel slip (kids have been doing it for years deliberately and by accident), but losing front tire grip results in the classic “low-side” wreck with no way to recover from the fall. So cheapskates and tightwads need to put their (single) studded tire up front!

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Agreed, a single studded tire is more than sufficient for a reasonably skilled rider in any Portland conditions short of an ice storm. I’ve used a front studded tire all winter for quite a few years now, ever since I started commuting over the often-frosty West Hills to Beaverton, and I have found no real downsides other than the initial $75 investment.

If you have decent bike-handling skills, there’s really very little chance of the back end of your bike coming around on you, since we rarely see the blankets of ice and deep ruts that are common back east (in Peter White country).

A single studded tire costs half as much as a pair, and adds only half the rotating weight and maybe a third of the rolling resistance. If you get a good one, like the Schwalbe Marathon winter, you’ll find that your bike isn’t appreciably slower and doesn’t corner any worse than with a cyclocross tire. You still need to exercise good judgment, but for the most part with a good studded tire on the front your bike will simply handle LIKE A BIKE on not just snow and mild-to-moderate ice, but also on leaf-strewn streets in the fall.

It kind of amazes me that they aren’t more popular here. I think maybe all the negative publicity around studded tires for cars has somehow got people convinced they are a bad idea for bikes too. Nothing could be further from the truth.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Or the fact that you would need a studded tire about 3 times a year.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I’m not saying most people would get them. Just saying it surprises me that they’re almost unheard-of here (unlike most northern cities with far fewer bike commuters), even though freezing weather is not unheard-of.

You may only “need” them 3 times a year if your commuting is confined to the heat-island bubble of inner Portland. If, as I mentioned above, you cross the west hills, you would find them useful a lot more than 3 times a year. Also, as i mentioned, they are quite useful on leaf-strewn streets, a topic that always provokes a couple of BikePortland threads.

So again, in a city full of $1000+ commuter rigs and $200 canvas bags, you’d think at least a few dozen Portland commuters would find a $75 investment in safety useful. Near as I can tell, the actual number of studded-tire commuters in Portland probably isn’t much above single digits.

ben
Guest
ben

I have a front stud and a back slick . Front has a low psi back has a high.
I need the front for steering and stopping. The back just follows the front.

Living in Minnesota and now Utah I have dedicated snow bike. Mainly because I don’t ride long distances in that weather any ways.
For Portland I would a front spare stud I could throw on my bike in couple of seconds.

ben
Guest
ben

Front wheel with stud on it.

Mindful Cyclist
Guest
Mindful Cyclist

I decided to take the bus to work today because I knew it was going to be icy and nearly slipped walking across East Burnside. Ride safely!

Richard S
Guest
Richard S

I don’t have enough undamaged body parts left (from bike crashes), so I had to drive to work.

wileysiren
Guest
wileysiren

I’m still recovering from being right-hooked and instead of hobbling to the bus stop this morning and potentially slipping, I drove. Have to say I saw a LOT of people having problems keeping steady while riding in to work over the Hawthorn Bridge. I feel for y’all.

Jocelyn
Guest
Jocelyn

I ate it turning left from Russell onto Flint. I knew it was icy, went way slower than normal — and still went down. I’m just bruised, no major damage. I had at least a dozen people on bikes and in cars ask if I was okay — it felt good to see so many people looking out for each other. I also passed several people walking their bikes over the Broadway Bridge — I wonder if they had falls too, or were just trying to avoid them.

John Lascurettes
Guest

When I took that turn (wide and slow) I could feel my wheel slide slightly. I turned around after making it to make sure the cyclist behind me made it too. He did.

daisy
Guest
daisy

I started walking right after this intersection. I didn’t fall, but I felt my bike slip a bit and didn’t want to risk it. I ended up walking across Flint and Broadway Bridges and then riding.

Joe
Guest
Joe

OBEY ice 🙂

stace
Guest
stace

I tried. I made it 4 blocks and then bit it turning onto Willamette in st. johns (going very slow and careful). It was a sheet of ice. I walked back home and drove 🙁

Tim
Guest
Tim

I got to use my studded bike tires today – hurray

adventure!
Guest

My commute goes from south of Ladd’s to Hawthorne. The roads looked slick but not particularly icy or frosty. I didn’t have any issues, thankfully, but I took it slow and carefully.

And Jonathan, when are the “BikePortland icy bike routes” text alert system going to get set up? 😉

Showers Pass
Guest
Stephanie

I biked and down Interstate with no incident but fell at slow speed while turning at the esplanade overpass. No broken skin or bruises but have a new respect for ice awareness.

John Lascurettes
Guest

I had a nice wake up call by sliding down my steps going to my garage when I went to fetch my bike. I took the ride nice and slow. I could feel the rear tire slide sideways once in a while. Took nice, long slow downs when braking and wide slow turns. Made it to work okay.

I did see a number of cyclists walking their bikes.

Kevin C
Guest
Kevin C

That was fun. Nothing like a little adventure on the way to my cube. Not sure I’d do it again. Was terrified of crashing on the Burnside Bridge and skidding out into traffic. Thanks for the tips, next time I need to lower the air pressure in my tires or get bigger tires.

RH
Guest
RH

Rode down Interstate, over the broadway, to downtown without crashing. My tires spun out too when I acclerated from a stop! I rode about 10 mph, sat upright, and tried not to lean at all. There was a lot of ice everywhere though!

rain bike
Guest
rain bike

The temp must have dropped just before sunrise. When I left the house at 5:30, my weather station read above freezing. The Springwater from Oaks Park north was not yet icy. It WAS unusually still and quiet.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

Just before sunrise is usually the coldest part of the day.

Paul H.
Guest
Paul H.

I left Gladstone at 5:45 and rode 99E, Sellwood streets, Springwater, and Hawthorne Bridge (rider no. 106 this morning) — arriving downtown about 6:30 — without experiencing any slippage whatsoever.

wade
Guest
wade

Ha! I went down on Albina and Rosa Parks, which is surprising since I consider myself the Baryshnikov of black ice.

pea
Guest
pea

i fell in the Russell-to-Flint spot a few years ago on an icy morning. today was on the downhill of the Steel Bridge… on the roadway (early morning, about 6:30 so very little traffic, then had to pick my bike over the railing to the sidewalk to put my chain back on). bruises and sore, but i am convinced having a bike bag as opposed to panniers actually helped catch my fall.

Cameron
Guest

I must be living in a different city to everyone here. I left home in Kenton at 7:30am and rode Wabash/Willamette/Greeley/Broadway Bridge to work downtown. Arrived at 8:00am, back tire slipped once crossing Willamette from Wabash, that was the extent of my woes. Broadway Bridge seemed fine to me at the time I rode across. I was a little more cautious than usual, but nothing seemed that bad.

oliver
Guest
oliver

You must be living on parallel plane. Conditions were much worse an hour later.

I left home at 8:40 and spun the rear leaving the driveway, and at just about every stop sign up Delaware (bemused looks from cars crossing Lombard). Had two wheels slip turning from Willamette onto Concord. I was testing the conditions waiting to cross Interstate and both wheels were slipping, likewise leaving the stop sign at Alberta and freeway.

I didn’t really stop having issues until I passed Vancouver at Russell. But by then I was going so slow i probably wouldn’t have noticed. (Note to self, just cuz it’s sunny doesn’t mean taking the fast bike will do any good at all)

KJ
Guest
KJ

I left Kenton at just after 8, Interstate to Lloyd into SE Industrial, no problems, rear tire slipped a little once down at lower Albina.

dan
Guest
dan

I walked in today, purely at random, not because I had any idea that conditions were so slick. Once I got to the slick spots, I was glad that I’d left the bike at home. I saw very little visible ice, the most slippery spots just looked like wet pavement – deceptive. The slickest day I remember in the past few years!

jram
Guest
jram

i ate it coming off of Humboldt onto N Interstate. I was going super slow, but apparently not slow enough. Tried to use my inside foot to catch myself, but it was so slick that it slid out too. After that, the ride down the hill was not as fun as usual.

j.rob
Guest
j.rob

Went down turning left onto NW 18th. Bloody elbow and knee with a side of chewed up handlebar wrap. Worst part; I was wearing my NEW Cobra hoodie after deciding the old one looked too crappy to wear out (I tore that one up on my last spill). This is why we can’t have nice things! Saw two other cyclists also go down on the east-side. Girlfriend made it safely through Ladd’s to Division area.

deborah
Guest
deborah

Clinton and Ladd’s was fine though there was someone being loaded into an ambulance at the foot of the Hawthorne bridge. 🙁 Definitely slick. Downtown seemed ok going up 3rd to Jefferson, but the 405 overpass and a good deal of 14th was still frozen at 8:30 or so. Great tips on icy riding!

michelle
Guest
michelle

I’m going to brave it. Probably. Travel from NE through Ladd’s to Brooklyn. I work nights but hopefully things won’t re-freeze before I go home. Oh how I wish our bus system was more efficient on these days.

Brock Dittus
Guest

Left Lents at 6:20 and no issues I noticed then and there. Was a little late so I rode 82nd ave and foster to make up some time. Was hauling like usual up MLK hoping to make up some time when I noticed the shimmy and shake of icy pavement. The rest of my commute became a proper English countryside ride well below my normal speeds, and I was still nervous. Ice finally became visible to my eye as I neared Marine drive. Still made it in on time! Thank lob it’s Friday!

Doug Rosser
Guest
Doug Rosser

People be careful! This combination of wet streets and lower 30 degree temps is what I call “Leg breaking weather” because I am at my year anniversary of doing just that. http://imgur.com/PhUpy

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

OWWW! Hope you’ve made a complete recovery.

Opus the Poet
Guest

That appears to be a broken fibula and ankle. The broken fib is no big deal (they never even bothered to set mine) but that ankle (shudder).

Adam Gniles
Guest
Adam Gniles

Sounds like a volunteer bike lane deicer spray bike rider is needed in North Portland. Do they make trailers for that yet? Springwater from Sellwood was fantastic at 6:30 a.m., we’re lucky in the SE.

Opus the Poet
Guest

I think a trike of some kind would be best for that. Perhaps a modified Workman or Lightfoot would do the job, or something in the Atomic Zombie line since the other 2 would require so much custom work anyway. If using the AZ plans as a base you would definitely want to spread the flanges when you made the wheels because there stands to be some high shock loads imparted to the side of the wheels when they lose traction and everything slides into a curb or wall. And you would also want to have either a solid axle or the dual freewheel “positraction” setup for maximum Go Forward in the crud. Come to think of it, the dual freewheel on a jackshaft would also allow mounting the bin or tank of deicer to be mounted a lot lower on the vehicle and still be between the wheels.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

…dual freewheel “positraction” setup…

Got a direct link to that? My search foo seems barred.

Opus the Poet
Guest

It’s in the forums, which you can’t get to without joining AZ. In a nutshell you have a jackshaft driving both rear wheels through freewheels on the wheels or on the jackshaft. The wheel with the best traction always gets the power. It’s a bit more complicated to do but worth it if you ride in sloppy conditions frequently (like an HP truck that spreads deicer on bike paths). As I posted you get almost the same effect by just running a solid axle with both wheels tied together only your cargo space would be compromised by the axle running at wheel-center height between the wheels.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

OK, thanks, I’ll dig in. I totally understand the idea, it hatched in my own head awhile back, but so far my solutions to the obvious problems are kludgy, so I just want to see what else has been done.

(for the terminally curious, URL is http://www.atomiczombie.com )

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

The west hills (Portland side) were pretty exciting. Lots of sliding of the rear wheel and a few places where it was too slippery to walk up the slope.

On the other side, it was ice free, but felt plenty cold. Today was not the day for riding clipped in!

Redhippie
Guest
Redhippie

On the subject of de-icer, I noticed PDOT put donw magnesium chloride on interstate but not on the bike lane part. For truely high flow arterials, shouldn’t they also apply the bike lanes? Bikes are twice as suseptible to ice than cars.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

I would guess that their equipment is not set up to spray the bike lane and the car lane at the same time, so they’d have to make two passes.

Personally I’m more scared of getting hit by a sliding car than having my bike slide out from under me on its own.

renokayaker
Guest

Two words….Studded tires!

MSB
Guest
MSB

I left for work around 7:15 this morning and rode about a mile before sliding out and falling while turning onto N. Rosa Parks from N Williams. The road was a sheet of ice. I slowly pedaled home and waited for the rods to improve! An interesting morning.

Tyler Bradford
Guest

I need to buy a new helmet: http://imgur.com/YYbZ5

Took a right hand turn from Burnside onto 72th to go over to Davis. I had already taken a few turns, wasn’t really thinking it was that icy, but didn’t factor being on the dark,cold side of Tabor. I was probably going 12-15 mph when I ditched.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Glad your helmet took the hit, and not your head. I’m guessing you’ll still feel it tomorrow.

Gabbi
Guest
Gabbi

I hit the ground pretty hard at NE Tillamook and 16th, where you do that little jog-over on a sidewalk path. First broken helmet of my life! I have to send out many thanks to Jed, the biker who stopped and stayed with me for more than a few minutes while I collected myself and cleaned up. Here’s to the kindness of strangers!

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

Another tip: consider lowering your saddle a little. It’ll make it easier to get a foot down when the inevitable happens!

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

This! A lower saddle and platform pedals make for easy foot-downs.

MeghanH
Guest
MeghanH

So, so glad that I decided to work at home for a couple hours and then head in at 10 from SE Portland…no icy spots, and some nice person and / or government entity had spread de-icing crystals on the Hawthorne Bridge sidewalk by then. Thanks to my employer for saving me from road rash.

Erinne
Guest
Erinne

Went down on my first corner AND again turning onto N Vancouver. Vancouver was ICY and I saw several folks walking during the few blocks I rode. Kaiser had salt all over their campus, which was a relief. The sun was out by the time I had to go down Interstate hill, which made a big difference where it shone on the road, though I still took it reeeeally easy and quickly while tapping my brakes repeatedly and chanting “ohmygodohmygodohmygoddon’tfalldon’tfalldon’tfall” as a truck passed a few feet to my left.

SJ
Guest
SJ

Wow! Sorry so many went down. Saw glistening ice on most streets but rode anyway–slowly, feet down during gentle turns. Was surprised at all the riders passing, frankly, like nothing was different. Didn’t see anyone go down. Broadway, B-way bridge, into SW PDX from NE.

Sunny
Guest
Sunny

I’m glad I bought this cheap trike. Ice makes it fun to slide the rear out.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Normally, I leave 7:20(ish) to catch my bus, but after a slip (no fall) last night while coming home from studying, I gave myself more time.

I left at 7 this morning, and comfortably made it. It seemed that Sherwood actually warmed overnight, because the roads felt ice free.

Better Safe than Sorry.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Erinne
… I still took it reeeeally easy and quickly while tapping my brakes repeatedly and chanting “ohmygodohmygodohmygoddon’tfalldon’tfalldon’tfall” as a truck passed a few feet to my left.

That really Works??!! I’ll have to remember that one…

Boneshaker
Guest
Boneshaker

Saw one guy bite it turning onto Vancouver at about 7:20 (i checked and he was OK), then 2 others walking their bikes on Flint just a few minutes later. It was all black ice this morning coming down Going and into downtown. Interestingly it was much less icy in Beaverton than PDX, which is unusual. On the MAX a friend got on who was trying to ride over Sylvan via the MUT and he said it was impassable.

This is just part of year-round commuting in PDX. Sometimes you fall down, hopefully when you do you don’t get hurt.

Paula
Guest
Paula

I went down just before a red at an intersection, Mt Tabor near SE 76th and SE Stark. I think the road crown was enough to loose tire stability. Road even more slowly back home the 1 mile to nurse a sore wrist/palm. Thinking of getting some Conti Top Contact Winter tires (studless) to see me through the rest of the winter.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Wow, that is very cool. I had to look that one up. Of course studless ice tires for cars are old news, but I hadn’t heard that someone was finally making them for bikes. Guess it would have had to come from either Conti or Michelin first, since they already make car tires with these same technologies: micro-siping, and a special rubber compound that remains sticky in freezing temperatures.

Googling around for reviews on this tire, it sounds that while it doesn’t grip as securely on ice as a studded tire, it’s head-and-shoulders better than conventionally constructed tires, including those with knobs. In other words, good enough for most people, and exactly as you’d expect based on how car-oriented studless tires perform.

At $55 (Universal has them IN STOCK, folks!) it’s not cheap, but that’s a bit less expensive than a good studded tire, and a fair bit lighter, also I’m sure quieter, and won’t scratch up your floor. If I didn’t already have a studded tire I’d probably be getting one (even though I’d be sacrificing the wet-leaf benefit of studs).

Paula
Guest
Paula

True about cars. I run studless on my car – they work great!

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

Yep, I went down at 7th and Sumner, moments after leaving home. Vancouver was pretty sketchy between Going and Skidmore– had to take the lane due to a cement truck and almost went down in auto traffic. Not great, but I completed the rest of my journey without incident.

Got passed by a few other folks on Vancouver who in my opinion were going way too fast for conditions, especially since at least one was riding on road slicks, no helmet. Figured these folks just hadn’t had their asses handed to them by the black ice yet.

This was perhaps the one commute where I’ve gone slow enough to avoid breaking a sweat.

lassysmith
Guest
lassysmith

Ice crystals glistened in the light from my bike on NE 57th after Fremont, and even going slowly, I fell. I was very fortunate to get a ride the remaining 3 miels to my office from a Good Samaritan with a truck who stopped in his work truck from http://www.Budsexpert.com Arborist and Tree Care service. He drove a few miles out of his way to deliver me to work, and there was more ice and cars spinning along the way down NE Cully and across NE COlumbia Blvd. We now have a new tree trimming company!

Lucas Thurston
Guest
Lucas Thurston

I had a friend crash hard this morning near the Rose Quarter coming down Vancouver. He doesn’t remember exactly where it happened or how far he walked before he contacted me and, despite extreme confusion, requested an ambulance. He’s still having some memory issues as a result of the bonk he got on his head. I drove my car to him at the scene, and after I dropped him at home, I saw bikers riding the same route without helmets on, which just made me feel sick. If he hadn’t had a helmet on this morning, it could have been really bad.

So, that’s my tip. I think it’s dumb to ride without a helmet generally, but in even questionably icy conditions, it’s a deathwish.

Kirk
Guest

After hearing about several people falling, I decided to go nice and slow this morning.

I guess that dump truck driver that decided to lay on his horn for a whole 5 seconds (because I had to merge across 3 lanes and he was upset I wasn’t quickly darting my way across the road) didn’t get the message that the roads might be a little dangerous this morning and that people should operate their vehicles in a safe manner. What a terrible employee – I wish I would have recorded his vehicle number to report him to his boss, but of course I thought of this after we went separate ways.

CPAC
Guest
CPAC

Had a slip at a speed bump on NW Raleigh and then went down turning left from NW 19th onto Overton despite an intentionally slow speed. It was icy the rest of the way down Overton and even along Naito.

Hopefully things have melted a bit over the course of the day

Chelsea
Guest
Chelsea

Coming very carefully from NE to downtown I had 4 or 5 small slips and spin-outs, but was luckily able to remain upright. A few people in cars passed way too close and fast for the conditions. I didn’t see any people go down, but I saw several walking their bikes.

was carless
Guest
was carless

Biked in this morning @10. No ice in oaks bottom or Esplanade south of Hawthorne – Hawthorne bridge MUP was salted, however – first time I’ve seen that in all my time in Portland.

Will be biking home @11pm tonight from work. If the weather forecast is correct, it will be 29 degrees.

A bit too late now, but you can buy studded bike tires. Maybe I should get a pair if this keeps up…

davemess
Guest
davemess

I think these posts go to show how much of the readership on this site lives in N/NE. (Or at least that SE folks aren’t chiming in to say they had no problems). I live in Outter SE, and didn’t see anything resembling ice on my ride today at 7:30AM. It was 37 when I left my house, and I didn’t even think about bad weather until I turned on my computer at work.
Weird how it works like that.

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

A guy fell in front of me on Vancouver and Fremont so I went a little farther and then walked my bike down Broadway and over the bridge. A lot of people were successfully biking over the bridge. It was also a beautiful clear view of downtown so I’m glad I took my time!