If snow comes, let’s keep our cool and keep riding

Posted by on February 11th, 2021 at 11:03 am

(You won’t be the only one out there. Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland))

If you live in Portland, the news is unavoidable: Snow is coming. Maybe close to one foot if some predictions hold.

BikePortland wants to remind everyone that bicycling is not mutually exclusive with the presence of snow. In fact, it can be really fun. Often when a severe weather happens there’s a tone and vibe from road agencies and the media that it’s too dangerous to ride bikes, or that all the focus and advice for road users should only be put on people inside cars and buses.

Newsflash: It’s perfectly normal and reasonable for people to continue to ride through a snowstorm! As drivers, we should expect bike riders to be on the road and use our cars accordingly. As riders, we should be extremely cautious (any threat or presence of ice is a 100% no-go situation unless you have spiked tires), but also embrace the opportunity to use calmer streets and commune with nature in a way that’s relatively rare for Portland.

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My advice is to browse our 55 Riding in the Snow stories for loads of excellent tips and insights from the BikePortland reader brain trust (also known as the comment section) going all the way back to 2007.

Some of my favorites:

The ‘commute from hell’ was heaven on a bike (2016)
How to keep little bike passengers cozy in the cold (2018).
Biketown bike share vs. Snowmageddon (2017)

Whatever happens out there, bundle up and enjoy the ride.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Tom
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Tom

A severe weather alert in one city would be considered an unusually nice day in another.
Oulu Finland, where the snow season lasts over 6 months, has 27% year round cycling mode fraction. This is attributed to Oulu making a solid cycling plan and actually executing to the plan. It was a civil servant driven process and they did not require advocacy groups to continuously fight for every small incremental improvement. Its not about the weather, but really just about the quality and maintenance of the infrastructure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhx-26GfCBU

Justinoutwest
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Justinoutwest

What are you suggesting? “serious snow” here is a once in 3 year event. It last 2 or 3 days. I would say the next to nothing that transportation agencies spend thinking about plowing bike infrastructure is probably the correct amount. I mean really, they can barely keep a couple of main streets plowed. Put that money and effort into real infrastructure improvements. Having staff and equipment on hand to plow things like the Springwater Corridor is a pretty absurd thing to spend money on…

Huge difference than a city in Finland where snow is a half year reality. We could do better the imitate their bike network itself and deal with the occasional snow for what it is, an extremely uncommon event and enjoy the fact that it brings the city to a crawl.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

Yup. It’s like a 2/3rds of one percent thing here.

qqq
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qqq

What I understand Tom to be suggesting–from his own comments and the video he referenced–has almost nothing to do with snow plowing, it has to do with creating good biking and walking infrastructure.

In fact your own comment–“We could do better the (sic) imitate their bike network itself and deal with the occasional snow for what it is”–is exactly the message I get from Tom (who wrote it as, “Its not about the weather, but really just about the quality and maintenance of the infrastructure”).

eawriste
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eawriste

This is one of my fav vids to show people how peripheral all the other “but what about” variables are. Weather, culture, topography… type of touque… all of those variables pale in comparison to one simple fact: a safe network of separated space for bikes is the single best predictor of modal share.

Steve C
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Steve C

Very interesting, I agree with the Canadian guy that biking in snowy weather is not really a problem. Much better than 36 deg and raining. When I take a look at street view and bike maps of Oulu it looks like most of their bike infrastructure from an access and mileage perspective is just what we could call sidewalks, maybe a bit wider. Not against it but that does seem to be their solution. There are some nice multi use paths loops, featured heavily in his videos, but the bread and butter of the network is having cyclist ride on city sidewalks sharing space with peds.

And as Justinoutwest said, snow is so rare in PDX that the snow management piece of their system isn’t really feasible here. Though I assume you already knew that. Anyway, cool video.

https://www.ouka.fi/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=5e85fce3-3924-44f8-af24-e56d36e52921&groupId=840372

https://www.ouka.fi/documents/840372/21792702/Oulu_nature_attractions_City_biking_2.pdf/1a069345-c4c0-4b44-8481-83e585a63cff

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Portland could indeed make a bigger commitment to bike infrastructure usable in all weather conditions. Not saying they should commit to plowing all of it, because if they were to commit to that (as happens here in Minneapolis) people will freak out if they see bikeways getting plowed when the streets are a complete mess. I don’t think Portland is capable of making that commitment, nor necessarily should they. You really can’t compare Portland with cities in snowier climates and say, “hey, look what Montreal is doing!” But even if it isn’t plowed, separated infrastructure sure makes things an awful lot safer to ride than on-street bike lanes in 5-year snow events like this (or even smaller events).

SolarEclipse
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SolarEclipse

I remember a wicked winter back in the middle 80s in Corvallis where the streets were covered with at least 6″ of snow. I was over at a friends place and it was past midnight when I decided to head home. I had my old cruiser/beater bike and had a blast riding back to my place through the nearly empty streets. It was so amazingly quiet, peaceful, and the snow helped light up the surroundings. Might be one of my top 10 rides that I remember the most.

rain panther
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rain panther

Back in Chicago in the 90s I had loads of fun riding my cruiser/beater in the snow with its big ol’ balloon tires. On the way home late at night, the main street was usually relatively clear, but my side street would be totally snowed in, so I’d try to get a good head of steam, aim for a tire track, and see how long I could make it before wiping out. Here’s to soft landings…

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

I grew up in NoDak, biked year round, down to minus 20 with a snowmobile helmet with holes cut in the back so the moisture in my breath could escape. They have a saying there, “40 below keeps the riffraff away.” I’m now riffraff living in subtropical North Carolina.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Below a windchill of -20F or so, I find it tricky to keep enough of my face covered to be comfortable, but also still breathe easily without fogging up glasses or goggles. Semi-doable below that, but challenging. Looking forward to getting out of the Polar Vortex that’s gripped us for almost two weeks and back above that threshold, so I can ride more – as I’m sure Portlanders are anxious for the snow to melt. Be safe, everyone.

rick
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rick

Anyone try a trike? I’m considering a cargo one.

eawriste
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eawriste

Trikes are cool. They do have difficulty in narrower settings and anything not flat. Thought about getting my mom one. If you’re aiming for better performance on snow in specific you may want to go with a fat bike. I have a bike with 29×2.6″ (not fat) and it had only intermittent trouble riding in the snow you see now. Fat bike tires are typically 26×4.0″ or wider. For the 2 days a year we get snow I’d tend toward getting something more multi-purpose though, unless you’re a big beach rider.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

While plus-sized tires (the 29×2.6 size you mentioned verges on that threshold) are definitely not as good in deep snow as true fat tires, they are indeed vastly better in my experience than narrower tires. Especially as you get into the mashed-potato stuff churned up by boots, tires and (outside Oregon) plow blades that you’re probably dealing with right now. They really are a good compromise for most purposes. I ride on 29×2.8-3.25″ tires most of the MN winter, even on trails, and only use the fatties when we have several inches of freshie or I want to ride on a lake. Sorry, those latter use cases are pretty much nonexistent in most of OR, but that’s kind of the point. Plus tires rule, even for most on-pavement snow situations.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

It’s the perfect texture!

Hotrodder
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Hotrodder

I rode 15 miles in the snow today, 10 before 11AM, 5 more after 3PM. The afternoon snow was much more difficult – I guess that should stand to reason considering it’s been snowing all day. The texture and the grip of the snow was fine, but lots of drifts lying in wait, covering up snow-snakes. Do-able and fun but definitely a workout. Snow riding is one of those situations where being tall is a disadvantage. Flat pedals and low tire pressure helped immensely. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t get freezing rain this weekend.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Rain and freezing rain is what we’ve had for the last 3 days, with more on the way, 2 inches in actual moisture, and the temp never dropping below 30 degrees or over 36 degrees, night and day, here in central North Carolina – it reminds me of winter rains in my years of living in Portland.

I’m using Schwalbe Marathon GT 365 26×2.0 tires with chevron tread – best tires for such conditions that I’ve ever had – very grippy and sheds water well.