Gimme your ice advice!

I slipped on the ice yesterday. I’m leery of ice, but I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about real winter cycling. Please comment below with any tips!

I knew it would be icy out so I opted to have the five-year old ride his bike to school while I dragged the three-year old in our single trailer behind my cyclocross bike (Raleigh RX Womens–so pretty!). It came with knobby tires, which are apparently not knobby enough for Pacific Northwest cyclocross mud, but I thought their knobbiness might be nice for patches of ice. Don’t worry, Mr. Family Ride has already rolled his eyes and informed me that no regular tires are good on ice. He grew up with seasons, I didn’t. And apparently four years in Seattle haven’t yet changed me.

Our ice bikes

The four blocks to school were fine and the two miles to meet a friend in Green Lake were fine, but 100 feet from home I met with disaster. Here’s the intersection at 4:30 today:

The icy intersection today

But yesterday at 2pm it was blanketed by a solid sheet of ice. Someone uphill to the right:

Up here is the source of the ice

had hosed down their car to melt the ice and their runoff didn’t see sun all day (and I’m not sure it got warm enough that sun would have made a difference).

I’ve ascertained two things in retrospect:
One) I think I may have fared OK if I wasn’t pulling a trailer. I saw the ice and slowed down (one-point-five: maybe I would have fared better going faster, too) before gliding onto it in a nice straight line. When the trailer wheels met the lip of ice, the bike jerked back and I tipped over.
Two) I should have turned around to go around the block and reach home from the other direction. That’s essentially six extra blocks, including extra hills (groan), but next time I’ll do just that.

I should point out that I was clipped in. Pretty new shoes:

New shoes with Time cleats

but even putting a foot down would have resulted in me flat on my back with my toddler’s grinning face looming over me.

Cascade Bicycle Club’s last News Roundup included this BikeRadar article on Cycling in icy conditions and bad weather, which I admit I didn’t read until just now. I found the comments more entertaining than the actual article, though.

After tweeting about the incident yesterday:

Elle of Tiny Helmets Big Bikes turned me on to Bike Spikes (and video of their installation). Very cool! But of course overkill for my one patch of ice every ten miles.

Today I rode 30 miles alone on my road bike–much slower than necessary, but I didn’t fall! This is just downhill from my house and was solid ice at 9am, but had melted by this 4:30 picture:

Today's ice (but after it thawed)

Needless to say, I took to the sidewalk to bypass it. I only saw one icy patch where someone had watered their car on the west side of the Lake Washington Loop. Perhaps it’s primarily a Wallingford phenomenon? [Stop it! Get an ice scraper!]

So please share any pointers you may have. I think if we have any serious snow, I’ll resort to the mountain bike plus double trailer, as I did last year, but ice has me stymied.

For the record, I’m also bewildered that one can scrape an elbow through two layers of clothing while said layers of clothing stay perfectly intact.

26 thoughts on “Gimme your ice advice!

  1. We get lots of melt/freeze out east. Some basic stuff for ice. Don’t go straight, pedal gently, lower the pressure in your tires to get more contact, don’t touch the brakes till you’re off the ice. Braking will cause a slide, slow down before you get to the ice if you need to go slower. Lowering your saddle a bit can help. If it’s a regular thing, studded tires are great. I like the Schwalbe marathon winters, but they’re spendy. You can get away with only one on the front if you have to.

    Zip ties and chains only work if you’ve got disc brakes. And zip ties are dubious at best I think.

    • Thanks! This is what I need :) I’m tempted to go practice…but not until I can watch the beginning of the Bike Spikes video (the pre-Bike Spikes part) without cringing.

  2. I love the Bike Spikes! That’s totally cool! Reminds me of the Spikes Spiders ( I had for my Saturn back in the day. We’d put the hub on before going on vacation and then if we ran into bad weather no big deal.

    I’m wondering if they come in smaller sizes and if I can just get one for my front tire only? Off to research!

  3. I wondered why you chose not to ride your big dummy? I’ve found longer wheel-base bikes to be more stable on sketchy roads – whether slick leaves or icy patches they seem to be less prone to slipping out.

      • Although, after I thought about it, it did make sense to use the trailer since the potential for slipping was SO great. With the trailer the kids are still safe if you hit the deck…so, maybe hooking the trailer to the Big Dummy?

      • I’ve hauled an *empty* trailer around with the Big Dummy (to leave it locked up somewhere to come back later with a little bike and retrieve it + kid), but I’ll have to psyche myself up to pull weight behind the heavy bike…

  4. Zipties & knobby tires will help in snow, but are unlikely to help on sheer ice. On ice, the only things that help you are more surface area in contact, or mechanical studs/spikes/etc. that dig in. Rubber knobs and plastic-ties don’t do that.

    More surface area, through bigger diameter wheels (29″s/700), wider tires, and running lower pressure is good, not only because it increases friction, but it also increases the likelyhood of finding traction on an only partially-iced road.

  5. Every winter I go monkeying around at night in the ice and/or snow and have learned (by crashing!) a few things. I biked our kids to school that same day in Tacoma. Roads were quite frosty all over with patchy black ice. Our Xtracycle currently has 700×38 slick tires at 60psi that have a very squared-off side wall. I have to keep the bike perpendicular to the road in order to maximize the contact patch of the tires; slower into the corners with more turning of the handlebars than normal. On the way home, with no passenger weight on the snapdeck, I lost traction of the rear tire on a corner and nearly went down. When I got home, I switched to my cruiser bike with 26×2.3″ tires at 40psi. Tons of rubber on the road, a longer wheelbase and low center-of-gravity than my road bike, plus it’s hard to lock up the coaster brake when sitting down. Out of the saddle for hills was dicey, but it got me where I needed to go. If it gets snowy and icy, I’ll be swapping our the Big Apple tires on the cruiser for some homemade studs (though mostly for more monkeying around.)

    • Matt, this is awesome! What a great use for our otherwise neglected beach cruisers. I don’t know if I can subject my pretty Kozmopolitan to ice and slush, but I’m going to give it a try on Mr. Family Ride’s. (Of course I lost a small part when I stole his seat for a while so I’ll have to go figure that out first…)

  6. I don’t have any advice (no one could live in San Francisco if there were ever ice on the roads), but I am completely floored that people are de-icing their car windows with a hose! That is insane and so dangerous for other people on the roads!

    • If I can time things right and spot the neighbor, I’ll say something. I figure they’re probably from Southern California and have no idea what they’re causing. (Not that *I’ve* ever hosed down a car, but I obviously don’t know a lot about ice on the ground :))

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  8. When you are dealing with ice and the trailer you should really not break until after you are clear of the ice mess. You also have the weight of the trailer, grinning toddler, and all the other stuff your kid decided to pack in there pushing you without peddling. You could always practice the safe skidding with a whole bunch of groceries in the trailer. I know you probably like wearing the clippy shoes but maybe save them until we get a nice thaw. I rode all of 2010 and most of 2011 with my Redline (very skinny tires) and trailer and we made it without falling. I hope you are okay. It can be a psychological barrier when you see ice.

    • Thank you for the trailer-specific ice advice! Very good to hear it is possible, though I’m going to stick to ice avoidance from now on. Good tip to stash the clippy shoes, too. I’m not really a clippy shoe kind of person, but I’m not very handy and haven’t thought about changing pedals. HOWEVER, Recycled Cycles gave me this neat plastic thingies that I think will easily attach to the pedals to turn them into regular flat pedals–that much I can handle!

      And I am OK! Just the tiniest scrape left on my elbow.

  9. One of the reasons I fell in love with riding a fixed gear in Boston was because of the ice. On a freewheel, you don’t notice ice until you’re losing control. On a fixed gear, you get immediate feedback about what’s going on with your rear wheel at all times. It makes navigating ice so much nicer.

    Other than that, my suggestions are what other have already said. On ice, don’t brake. Don’t change direction. Try to go around the ice. If there’s ice on an uphill.. take a different street. Walking can be just as bad as biking uphill on ice. Downhill on ice is fine, so long as you can maintain control. Long wheelbases are better.

    When I see an ice patch that I can’t avoid (on level ground or downhill), first I ensure that there aren’t potholes, manhole covers, or any kind of uneven ground that’s going to dump me on my side. If any of that exists.. well, I brace myself for a fall (and try to catch myself with my feet). If none of that exists, I make sure I have enough momentum to get past the ice patch (coming to a stop on the patch is no good!), stare straight ahead, and launch myself over the ice. If I look down, my steering changes and I become unsteady. If I stare straight ahead and concentrate on going straight, I can usually make it through.

    If you’re going to be doing a lot of ice riding, I have a friend (still in Boston) who swears by studded tires.

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  12. Oh, I fell riding my cross bike and puling my son in the trailer. I only had one witness and I was more embarrassed than hurt. I’ll have to check out the advice you got. We get snow/ice here (Colorado) that melts quick, but it’s fun & challenging to see how to commute.

    • I love your good spirit! I don’t know if I’d ever say “fun & challenging” about ice! If you glean any great tips, please pass them along. Hoping for another mild winter here, but ya never know…

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