Our first Portland snow

It’s been snowing! Pixie and I came down to visit Portland last year during soooooo much ice and it wasn’t all that fun, and it made me very glad I didn’t have to cope with 10 no-school days. This spell was a nice little three-day variety pack: Tuesday’s mild snow meant school let out two hours early, Wednesday was a properly snowy no-school day, and Thursday was a slushy two-hour late start.

By the way, my latest post on BikePortland is the very timely “How to keep little bike passengers cozy in the cold.”

The snow actually started on Monday, but it wasn’t enough to accumulate (though neighborhood kids gathered enough to make snowmen in the park) so I finally bought a snow shovel, thinking that would ensure no more snow until next winter. I’m still surprised and dismayed that didn’t work.

Tuesday we took our usual route to school while snow fell and stuck. I was initially worried about the unpaved blocks, but the gravel was easy to bike over and the potholes turned into picturesque lakes. No one else biked to school :(

Wednesday we brought a neighbor (and his two saucer sleds!) and our two kid snowboards to the closest hill. In our hilly Seattle neighborhood we could just turn the corner and walk up the block for sidewalk/street hill or bike half a mile for a grassy hill, but nowadays it’s a bit over two miles to a park with a decent hill. I think the 10-year old stayed upright the whole time (he’s the slow and cautious one), but the rest of us each tipped over once.

I was worried about my feet getting cold while hanging out with my coffee while the kids frolicked so I biked in snowboard boots for the first time. It wasn’t horrible, but it was clunky and I am so impressed my kids put up with it in the past! They’ve outgrown their snowboard boots so they were in regular boots.

By the time we headed home, a lot of the snow had melted so we all stayed upright.

Thursday’s two-hour late start was great because there was very little car traffic and the roads had warmed up a bit so there was only snow and slush, no ice. I was worried our usual gravelly route might be icy and take too long (why having two extra hours to get to school makes it harder to leave on time, I’ll never know!) so we rode a couple blocks of sidewalk along busy roads (avoiding those two busy blocks is why we ride six blocks of gravel normally). I took my mountain bike because I’m scared of snow and had errands to run all day. This meant the kids had to wear their backpacks–a rarity and they didn’t complain! One other adult bike was at the racks.

Snow fell as we biked home, but just a teensy bit and it didn’t stick. The roads were clear so I took my cargo bike and carried all the stuff. The sky looked amazing, by the way.

I hope this is the end of the snow, but we’ll see…


Portland Snow with Pixie

I made a fairly last-minute decision to head down to Portland for the weekend with Pixie. Then I made an even-more-last-minute decision to take my mountain bike instead of my Surly Straggler, thinking the knobby 26″ x 1.95″ tires would be better than the 700c x 38 mm slick but supple Barlow Pass Compass Tires on my Straggler because Portland is absolutely covered in snow. I found a pet-friendly Airbnb that was close-in so I wouldn’t have to do too much biking and could ditch the bike and walk if need be.


All my photos are here: Portland snow with Pixie – January 13-15, 2017 – 105 photos, 2 videos

Mountain bike as travel bike
I stayed up late after the kids were asleep Wednesday night to transfer the bags I keep on my road bike to pretend it’s a travel bike to my old GT I-Drive 2.0 mountain bike to pretend it’s a travel bike. I used to mountain bike (very poorly) in San Diego occasionally, but these days this bike mostly gathers dust in the basement. It comes out for our very occasional snow (like biking in 2012’s snowmageddon) and for my first mountain biking in 10 years last summer (still extremely slow and cautious, but super fun!)

The Carradice Bagman Quick Release Support went on easily, but the KLICKfix mount for my Swift Industries Paloma Handlebar Bag is sized for my road bike bars covered in bar tape so I shimmed it with lots and lots of old inner tube. [NOW I know inner tube should not be used as a shim.] I also swapped out my clipless pedals for flats and took a little Knog Blinder light from one of the kids’ bikes to put on my fork since I couldn’t fit anything else on the bars with the Portland Pogies handlebar mittens on. I brought my CygoLight in case I could figure out where to mount it (with plenty of spare old inner tube, of course).

On Thursday I took a shakedown ride to REI. This meant my mountain bike visited the I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park for the first time! I didn’t do any mountain biking because it’s too technical for me. But I took a picture:


I also didn’t ride the gravel test track at REI. I guess technically I was test riding a bike (just not one of their bikes), but I was also in a hurry and only there on an errand.

The front bag worked great! The pedals stayed on! The rear bag, however… It looks like there’s a lot of clearance between the rack and tire, but that rear shock is really squishy.


As I pedaled home and heard rubbing over each unnoticed bump (tiny bumps, even!) it occurred to me that I’ve heard the phrase “lock out one’s shock” so I Googled that when I got home, but it turns out I don’t have that kind of shock. I considered taking my Straggler after all, but decided to pack even lighter than I was already forced to pack (handlebar bag + saddle bag is a lot smaller than two large panniers) and cinch the bag around the middle with a John’s Irish Strap. This helped on the tiny bumps a lot. And getting out of the saddle for medium and big bumps worked for those. There was still a bit of rubbing here and there on bumps I failed to notice ahead of time.


Once I loaded the front bag with lots of stuff–that’s my laptop in a cloth diapering dry bag (waterproof! I use this large size for swim suits) cargo netted on top of the bag–the bag started to droop. Fortunately I didn’t notice this until I got off the train in Portland so I wasn’t worried about it for the long train ride.


First thing Saturday morning I hit the closest bike shop, Crank, to see if they had something better than inner tubes for me. Justin was SO NICE and instructed me that inner tubes should never be used as shims (shh, I’m still gonna use them for little things like bells) and found an old mount that uses the same sort of brackets and installed those.

So now my bike was sorted. Without the Straggler’s front basket, Pixie was forced to travel in her Timbuk2 Muttmover backpack the whole trip. This was probably better considering the slippery snow.

Amtrack Coast Starlight vs. Amtrak Cascades part two/Amtrak with pet part two
I recently took my first Amtrak Coast Starlight trip and compared it to Amtrak Cascades. I gleaned a bit more information about the Coast Starlight and about traveling with pets.

First: you get two seats when you travel with a pet! I thought it was an accident on the way down, but on the way back the conductor told me that it’s for safety since there’s no legroom with the pet down there (not so if the pet is in one’s lap, of course, but them’s the rules so I got an empty seat next to me each way). Reading Amtrak’s All Aboard, Pets page, it looks like perhaps that’s only an Amtrak Cascades thing and maybe the extra seat on the way down shouldn’t have been.

Second: Coast Starlight will bring food to you! From the Coast Starlight webpage:

“…Just-for-You Express Meal Service, where coach passengers can select from a limited daily menu featuring specially priced, freshly prepared lunch and dinner selections with the convenience of at-seat delivery.”

This is especially great when traveling with a pet, although earlier I stuck her in the backpack to walk to the cafe for a coffee. The lunch this day was a BLT with chocolate chip cookie and bottled water (and easy enough to skip the bottled water and utensils to cut down on trash/recycling).

Obviously, I’m not a regular snowbiker/icebearder so this is not the place for all things biking in snow.

I have only one interesting observation: fighting to stay upright on a mountain bike in unpacked snow is not unlike stubbornly refusing to put a foot down while inching along behind two circuitous toddlers on balance bikes on a cargo bike in gravel.

So the snowy snow felt familiar, but I still hate ice. I slipped and fell to the ground once on Saturday. After that I successfully hopped clear of my tipping bike three times. Pixie was unscathed and seemed not to even notice my fall and jumps.


I got a bit better at recognizing surfaces too icy to ride over, but I still fell a few times on Sunday, too. The first I went down hard on my elbow and expect to see a nice bruise soon. That was as I realized I was on a hill (steeper than the very slight icy downhill that felled me so many times the day before) that had turned from snow on top of ice to just ice and as I VERY VERY SLOWLY applied my brakes to dismount and walk, down I went. But I got pretty good at choosing spots to slow to a stop and get off to walk. Walking isn’t easy on the ice, either, but using the mountain bike as a outrigger to help balance made it a lot easier. I never fell while walking the bike, but I got off the ice as quickly as I could (and by quickly I mean very slowly, but via the most direct route).

Sunday was slushier than Saturday, but there was also more ice. Most my falls were on sheets of glassy ice, but running up against the icy edges of ruts was wobble inducing, too.

All weekend people kept talking about Seattle’s snow plows having come down to Portland to help plow the roads. I didn’t much evidence of plowed roads, though. I think the streets too busy for me to ride on were plowed, but that didn’t mean they were clear of snow as this non-snow-experienced visitor would have expected, rather the snow was packed down much more in the roads than it was on the sidewalks.

If I lived somewhere snowy, I’d love to have a set of studded snow tires. Of course I can’t say that I’d bike as often in the winter if it was snowy. It’s still faster than walking and more reliable than transit (the bus app in Portland temporary replaced “minutes away” with “distance away” since it’s impossible to predict in these conditions) so I have a feeling I’d stick with biking. I certainly wouldn’t want to drive in these conditions–eek!

I really didn’t ride much either day: 5.8 miles on Saturday and 7.9 miles on Sunday (divided into three trips: 4.4 miles + 1.5 miles + 2 miles). Had the streets been clear, I would have done more stuff, but for a last-minute trip and tiring snow, this was just perfect.

One cold-weather thing I think I finally got figured out is keeping my phone running. I keep my iPhone 5s in a LifeProof case at all times (waterproof and shockproof for those of us who have dropped phones in toilets and on hard cement) and attach it to my handlebars with a LifeProof Bike + Bar Mount so I can listen to the Google Maps app tell me where to go. My previous phone, an iPhone 4s worked better in the cold and would shut off when the battery was at 20% on very cold days. This phone seems to do the same at 50% battery. It seems to work slightly better if it’s doing something–like giving me directions or playing music. But keeping it plugged into an external battery (I have a RAVPower Deluxe that has a little built-in flashlight I’ve never used other than accidentally turning it on and blinding myself, but it might come in useful someday) kept me running all weekend.

Portland Activities

And just to give a shout-out to all the fun places I visited, here’s what we did…

As previously mentioned, I started Saturday with a visit to Crank. This is a great bike shop! Lots of cool bikes, including Public Bikes in adult and kid sizes. And a dad came in with an Islabikes that needed its rear wheel trued from excessive jumping and skidding (that sounds familiar!). Also exciting was my happening to be in on the day of the soft opening of pop-up in-store coffee by Foxy Coffee Company. Great coffee and the best hot chocolate. Look for them popping up all around Portland.


Next up I went to Clever Cycles to meet up with friends. While there I got a Problem Solvers Handlebar Accessory Mount like I’ve seen on a friend’s bars to get her light up above her Paloma bag. It was nice to have it on the mountain bike for this trip, but it’s really for using on my road bike once home.

Kath met me with her daughter on her Bike Friday Haul-a-Day midtail and my best-friend-from-when-I-was-little-who-moved-to-Portland-a-year-ago-yay! Miwa came by bus from her southwest Portland neighborhood. We walked our bikes a couple blocks to Lardo because it has a big heated tent where Pixie was welcome. And it’s delicious!

We left our bikes there and walked a few blocks to Upper Left Roasters (because they’re at the upper left corner of Ladd’s Addition, says Kath). I had the special, a maple turmeric latte, to combat the tiredness brought on by being out in the cold. The cold is really sapping my energy this winter! I don’t remember it being so bad in the past, but I’m sure I’ve just blocked it out for survival’s sake.

Miwa hopped back on the bus and Kath bravely led the way to Rivelo. No falls, but we had to walk in some deep sections and over rails. I love Rivelo. I picked up some more John’s Irish Straps because they’re great for everything, including giving away to friends, so I don’t have enough to hold all my stuff on. They also have two sets of Portland Pogies, the handlebar mittens I like so much. And several signed copies of my book, Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living.


Did I mention the cold makes me tired? I got home at 6 and was done for the day. I thought about calling in a to-go order at bike-friendly (and with dog-friendly outdoor heated seating, too!) Pambiche Cocina & Repostería Cubana around the corner, but I couldn’t even muster the energy for that. Packing light meant I didn’t have snacks for 20, but I still had snacks for me so I survived the evening without outside food.


On Sunday I started my day with a snowy ride to The Bridgetown Bagel Company tucked inside Rose City Food Park because the photos of the bagels looked delicious and the food park is dog friendly:

“Rose City Food Park also welcomes dogs, big and small, with plenty of space for walking, potty break and fresh water bowls.”

It was too cold to stay and eat more than a couple bites on site, but we’ll be back after the thaw.


Since I was close to Velo Cult bike shop/bar/coffee shop I swung by to take a picture of my bike by the mural, even though they weren’t open yet. This would have been the perfect place to bring Pixie Saturday night (with food brought in from a nearby take-out place) had the streets been clear.


Then after packing up and checking out, back to Lardo with Kath–because I didn’t know of a similarly warm Pixie-friendly place, but mostly because I couldn’t stop thinking about the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup Miwa had the day before.


In nice weather I would take one of my favorite two bridges and a trail to get to the train station: either Eastblank Esplanade to Steel Bridge or Tilikum Crossing to Waterfront Park Trail, but I doubted the trails would be passable so I opted for the Hawthorne Bridge and Naito Parkway. It was OK–mostly slush and some ice. The bikeway/walkway over the bridge the salted and clear (well, half of it).


Things were really slushy downtown…from more cars and buses? There were even some proper puddles to ride through.


It was a wonderful visit and this small dose of snow was fun, but I’m happy to be home in warmer Seattle. Next up for Portland is thawing and flooding. Good luck!

Biking in the first Seattle snow of 2014

The snow storm that’s been pummeling Portland and meant the cancellation of the Worst Day of the Year Ride moved north last night and left us with three inches of snow. Initially, I planned to keep the Kidical Mass on the Beacon Hill Greenway happening. I was hesitant to carry the kids there on the Big Dummy, fearing shady Interlaken Drive would be icy, so I checked out the bus situation and saw the 48 could take us all the way there. But this would mean bringing three separate bikes, whereas I’d originally hoped to carry the kids the whole way, due to a hill at the beginning of the Greenway. But no matter, I ended up canceling the ride when others reported kids wanting to stay inside…and I really wasn’t sure we could handle the one-mile ride to the bus stop.

The kids made do playing in the house snow for quite a while, but craved bigger and better things so we made for the park. We couldn’t locate our sled so we decided to bring snowboards. By this time much of the street snow had melted so I could have managed the Big Dummy, but I already had my mountain bike on my mind (I only pull it out for big snow, though I hope to mountain bike on it again some day) so I shoved the kid snowboards under the flap of my All-City Low-Profile backpack and we were set. My tires suggest 35-65 psi so I set them at 45, figuring that was good and low for any snow I might encounter. I didn’t think to check the kids’ tires; I guess they were probably overinflated for the conditions.

Ready to snow ride

The four-year old had a bit of trouble getting started pedaling in his snowboard boots, but he quickly adapted and lurched along.

Kids riding in the snow

The picture above is the snowiest block–most was completely clear or partly slushy. The sidewalks were pretty snowy and the little one had to walk his bike up a few hilly blocks through that sidewalk snow. They each fell a couple times, but were up quickly and ready to keep going.

Kids riding in the slush

The park was a winter wonderland, with sledders and snowmen galore.

Snowboarding in the park

Thankfully it’ll all melt away and life can return to normal tomorrow.

Snowboards on the bike

The best thing about carrying snowboards on the bike are the wisecracks:
“You on your way to go shredding?”
“Off to the snow now?”
“It’s a long hike to the mountains!”

Snowboards on the bike

Nope, I just dropped them off to get waxed. I’ve done a little bit of biking in snow, but I prefer my snow an hour’s car drive away.

The kids and I dropped them off at evo on Monday, a short mile and a half away. There’s a snazzy bike rack out front–here’s a picture I took of the day they put it in six months ago:

Bike rack at evo

However, the service department is around back, accessed by two narrow driveways with cramped parking lot. I could have squeezed against the wall, but I took the empty adjacent parking spot.

evo, the backside

For drop-off day I put the two adult snowboards horizontal on one side–the bar end/foot peg worked well to aim them out and away from my pedal–and the two kid boards vertical on the other side so I’d have a bit of room for kid gear in the front of one of the bags. I was a bit worried about the big boards tilting down and scraping the ground, but they stayed put.

Snowboards loaded two to a side

I put my Xtracycle WideLoader on for pickup yesterday so I could fit groceries on one side of the bike and all four boards on the other.

Snowboards, four on one side

I don’t own a LongLoader and my pedal bumped the boards as I tried to wheel out of the parking spot, but bunching up my jacket and shoving it next to the boards did the trick.

My jacket as LongLoader

Check out that clearance!

Result of my jacket as LongLoader

And to assuage my fears of the boards tilting out the back and scraping the ground, I cradled them in my cargo net.

Cargo net snowboard cradle

Now there are simpler ways to carry snowboards. We saw a guy on a regular bike with one snowboard strapped to his backpack. It took quite a few bell dings before he looked over to see us waving at him, so he had probably experienced his fair share of snow wisecracks. I didn’t think to shout, “Hey, we’re carrying snowboards, too!” and I’m worried he didn’t notice. There’s a lot to notice about my bike at first glance.

It’s a shame we didn’t wait until today to pick up the boards because we had our first in-town snow of the season.

Snow today

The streets were white with snow when we first peeked out the window, but by the time we hit the road, hail had washed most everything away.

Snow today

Next snow (if there is a next snow), I plan to have us tool around on separate bikes. I’ll probably opt for my mountain bike with knobby tires.

Biking Snowmageddon again

The snow is still here and today we took and even shorter trip to the closest grocery store. I lost momentum with half a block of snow to go and had to walk to 45th for the cleared road. I’m not sure if studded tires would have made much difference with the trailer pulling me backwards.

There were more cars out than I’d expected, including a snow plow. It wasn’t plowing when we saw it and it looked like a privately-owned truck. The grocery store was more crowded than I’d expected, too. I didn’t take note of the parking lot yesterday, but I think today was probably the day people finally ventured out for supplies.

When we arrived there was just a dog at the bike rack and a pair of skis leaning against the building, most shoppers having come by car or foot. But upon our exit there were two bikes, two dogs, one kid, and one sled.

The trailer seems to be working well for the kids. They aren’t bickering in such close quarters and it’s warm enough to leave their hands bare so they can snack. I can’t hear a thing they’re saying back there, but for short trips that’s not a bad thing ;)

Biking in Snowmageddon

Several inches of snow fell and stuck and while I didn’t want to do a lot of riding, I had two overdue library books nagging at me. I didn’t feel comfortable taking the Big Dummy with its awesome-in-normal-conditions Panaracer T-Serv 26 x 1.75 inch tires so we hooked the double trailer to my mountain bike, a 2004 GT i-drive 2.0. Mr. Family Ride was worried about the trailer slipping back and bumping the disc brake, causing the bike to come to a sudden stop, but it stayed in place. It slips often when I have it attached to my road bike, but either the width of the tube or the freezing temperature kept it well attached today.

I made it a block and a half uphill OK, but had to walk three blocks up 44th to the top of the hill. As I trudged up the road, I realized I should have opted for 45th where the car traffic had melted most of the snow, but I didn’t want to slow the one lane of traffic with my snail’s pace ascent. I was tempted by a block of beautifully shoveled sidewalk, but by then I was at the top of the hill and could handle riding on the road again.

It was hard dragging the trailer over curbs so I asked passing pedestrians for a couple favors–pushing the walk button to get across Sunnyside and join the traffic of 45th and then to put my library books into the return bin.

We took a break from our mile-and-a-half round trip journey to visit the train table at the Wallingford Center. I’d read about the train theft on Wallyhood so we brought a few train cars from our B-team to donate. Turns out someone had already donated some much nicer Thomas trains. I wanted to take our trains back home, but the boys insisted on sticking with the plan to leave them to share. Aw.

The kids stayed warm in the trailer, and this was actually my original idea for winter commuting, before getting the Big Dummy. I wasn’t envisioning this kind of snow, mind you, but I thought it’d be good for heavy rain and cold air. This was the first time I used the removable waist strap on my Seattle-made Tom Bihn Imago messenger bag. I wasn’t sure the cargo compartment of the trailer would stay dry, plus I wanted the library books at the ready for returning.

First *real* snow

Yesterday’s afternoon grocery run didn’t really count as a snow ride, but today we were met with snowfall as soon as we left the house for the Children’s Museum. The roads, bike path, and sidewalks were all fine on the way over, but quite a bit of snow fell as we rode along. We saw the light green streetcar train off its tracks and a horde of fire engines at Denny and Vine so not everyone had as easy a morning of it as we did.

Heading home a few hours later, things were much snowier. A guy offered to take a picture of us in front of the Space Needle, but I didn’t want him to have to take off his warm gloves. Turns out they were smartphone-friendly Outdoor Research Sensor Gloves he got at REI. Very cool.

By 4pm, the sidewalks were awful around the Seattle Center and South Lake Union. I saw countless people slip and fall. The roads weren’t bad, though, so I took a lane and rode home without incident. The same didn’t go for the bike lanes–Dexter’s separated bike lane was a lovely white two-inch deep blanket of snow.

Things got much better as we started climbing the hill of Westlake to the Fremont Bridge. The sidewalk was clear so I was able to leave the road for my slow ascent and once we reached North Seattle, there was very little snow on the ground. We stopped off at Gas Works Park and were surprised to see so much green. My guys ran up and down the somewhat snowy hills while bigger kids sledded and rode truckless skateboards down the sludge, oblivious to the better conditions a bit to the south.

My two-year old got cold on the way over so I’ll force him into his ski mask and ski goggles tomorrow. I wrapped him in a scarf, but he didn’t want to burrow his face in it to stay warm. The four-year old was warm enough, though rolling down kite hill at the end of the day did him in. I did a bit of layering and was fine–rain pants over jeans paired with two sweaters and Mr. Family Ride’s Endura Luminite Jacket. It wasn’t too bulky and it kept me warm. I realize it was quite cold out because this was the first time I wasn’t tempted to remove gloves and jacket for the uphill ride home.