Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bike commuter dangers on ice

We who ride our bikes in extreme weather (if you can label northeast Kansas weather in early-mid January "extreme"- extreme might be a liberal term; perhaps "cold and uncomfortable" would be more to the liking of Minnesota folk, and "warm and spring-like" may be more accurate for the resident of Alaska) could be said to take extreme risk(s). Once cold weather and snow arrives around here (in northeast Kansas) the bicycles all but disappear. That means cars aren't expecting bicycles on the road, and if they don't expect a bicycle, they don't look for a bicycle in their vehicle operations. Snow also brings decreased visibility so a cyclists is also more difficult to see, even if the vehicle operator is genuinely watching for bicycles. Snow on the road also spells danger for the cyclists in the form of increased stopping distance, and decreased stopping power for vehicles.

The danger I've been most concerned with over this winter riding season has been ice clods. Roads receive vehicle traffic which shape partially melted snow into different ruts and debris with their passing. Then, temperatures drop and those ruts and splashes of partially melted snow become frozen. This has proven to be the biggest obstacle to my safe riding.

The smooth snow and ice, packed down by traffic, didn't pose much of a problem to me. I seemed to retain my balance pretty well. But, this morning I had difficulty maintaining control on some sections of the road. The rough clods of frozen snow/ice jarred me violently and almost caused me to upset onto the road surface. It was dark out too. I was using my flashing three L.E.D. light up front, but it still was not enough to help me much with seeing a clear pathway. The front flashing light I use is more for vehicles to see me, rather than for me to see where I'm going.

So, be careful out there. Slowing my speed helped a great deal. Searching for clear paths as best as can be managed helps, too. For my own experience, the worst sections were on off streets. The main roads were pretty clear, as they no doubt received more treatment from city crews to keep them clear. My pulse increases just thinking about what it would have been like flying down off a hill in front of traffic and hitting a section of that rough stuff. I certainly would have fallen with the bike shaken out from under me. I learned a lesson this morning: luckily I learned without crashing.

Keep on commuting by bike!

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