Winter Commuting: Three Rookie Mistakes in 30 Minutes

This is my third winter as a smart winter commuter — rather: a prepared winter commuter.

But there was a winter — four winters ago — when I worked from home. Although I did all my out-of-office errands and went to all my meetings by bike.

I remember the first time I decided to go out on a bike in the snow. I think I was heading for the post office. I tried riding my mountain bike through snow that was a few inches deep.

Snow clogged brakes
Snow clogged brakes | Image: Cyclocross Magazine

I expected my non-studded knobby tires to dig in and give me the traction I needed, which they did pretty well — briefly. After about a dozen yards in this snow, those same knobs had carried snow up to the top of my rear triangle where it was scraped off and accumulated right where the brakes are. This created a lot of friction, and I couldn’t continue riding.

My first rookie mistake.

I looked at my snow-packed brakes and thought, Hmm… I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose I should stick to streets.

(I wasn’t a bike blogger at the time, or I would have thought, Take a photo; this’ll be a post.)

So I pushed the bike to the nearest plowed street, knocked and chisled out the snow, and got back on. Within 100 yards I hit an icy patch, slipped, and fell hard on my mid-40s butt.

My second rookie mistake.

It was then that I thought, This is stupid and I’m too old for it. Am I trying to prove something? I’ll put away the damn bike until all the snow and ice is gone from the roads.

Yep: I gave up.

My third rookie mistake.

I didn’t know about studded tires or any of the other gear, strategies, and preparation that made winter bike commuting an already well-solved problem. Working from home, it wasn’t exactly a problem pressing to be solved for me. And I didn’t go online and seek the knowledge of those who had solved it.

Commute by Bike existed at the time, with reviews of studded tires and more, though I didn’t know about it.

No, I jumped to the conclusion that winter commuting was for hard-core cyclists with younger bodies. It wasn’t until I took a job that required commuting that I reconsidered winter bike commuting — and that job came to include being the editor of this blog before the next winter came along.

The memory of those three rookie mistakes motivates me to keep posting about winter commuting. That memory also helps me realize that the message might not get through to some people — even “dedicated” cyclists whose dedication can’t survive one bump on the butt.

So here’s a preview of something we’ll be reviewing when summer rolls around:

Photo: Uberhood


That’s called an Uberhood. One has been delivered to Karen Voyer-Caravona — in Phoenix. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, snow is expected this weekend around here.


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4 thoughts on “Winter Commuting: Three Rookie Mistakes in 30 Minutes”

  1. BluesCat says:

    As a Phoenix commuter I’m gonna definitely check out the Uberhood.

    And consider me schooled in the Three Winter Bike Rookie Mistakes:

    1. When there are a couple of inches of snow on the Phoenix roads, don’t ride a bike with knobby tires. Check! (chuckle)

    2. When there’s ice on the Phoenix pavement, DO ride with studded tires. Got it! (chortle)

    3. Just because there’s ice and snow blanketing Phoenix, don’t give up bike commuting as a dumb idea. 10-4, good buddy! (guffaw)

  2. cathey says:

    when i commuted in the snow i rode in the tire ruts the cars made and took to the side streets as much as possible. if i remember correctly, it was a long time ago, i put surf board wax ,sex wax, on the frame and rims to keep the snow off.

  3. Shanna Ladd says:

    I have been surprised at what 2″ of snow or a small change in temperature can do to the trail conditions especially combined with the various vehicles that zip around!

    I now carry a brush that I can use to clean off my bike

    would wax make the bike difficult to carry? or collect grime?

  4. I ride 25mm tires year-round. Initially it was because I didn’t expect to ride much in the winter and didn’t want to buy and mount “snow tires.” The first unexpected snowstorm taught me that skinny tires work really well in fresh snow as they cut right through to the pavement and don’t collect a lot of snow and ice on their way back up.

    May not be true for all types of snow, but for what we get here in Utah, skinny tires are the way to go.

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