Yesterday's ride across Minneapolis and back finished before noon, so I missed this kind of cycling adventure. However, today I'll get a chance to test the snow clearing and driving practices in the northwest suburbs for a short but required meeting that hardly seems worth the effort.
This is what I signed up for when I sold my car. Who knows, it might be fun.
The first storm of the year always seems to provoke winter driving reminders in local papers everywhere, but the tips deal with snow, ice and winter survival, rather than how to deal with bike commuters on the streets who appear determined to keep riding.
So here are a few more reminders and suggestions if you're behind the wheel.
- Cyclists have a right to be in the traffic lane. It's the law. If we're there, it's usually because the street got plowing priority over bike lanes and paths. Main roads also get priority over the residential streets we might otherwise take. Sidewalks are rarely cleared consistently enough to be passable, and we're not supposed to be on them, anyway.
- Moving far to the right isn't always an option. If we're claiming the lane, we're not there to annoy you. If the road is plowed, the right edge where we usually ride is where the snow gets pushed and rutted from parked cars. If it hasn't been plowed, we have a choice between riding in the tracks left by cars or in the snow covered area between tracks. Either option presents certain issues for a cyclist, but what can really be dangerous is moving from one surface to another. We're safest going in a straight line and that may be in the middle of the lane.
- Leave us some room. Bad driving surfaces can be more treacherous for bikes because we aren't heavy enough to power through ruts or piles of snow the way cars can. If we seem to be riding erratically, it may be that we are reacting to road conditions ahead, and you might thank us. We have the same problems in snow that you do. The main difference is, we can fall down and get run over.
- I'm pedaling as fast as I can. Which isn't very fast. Keeping a slower, steady cadence allows me to feel the road and reduces risk of slipping under your vehicle. Your driving tips tell you to slow down, too.
- I don't want to stop any more than you do. For bikes as well as cars, maintaining a little momentum helps prevent us from getting stuck or losing traction. Be aware my stopping zone is extended just like yours, and coming to a full stop can be one of the most hazardous things I do in snow, especially around controlled intersections, where your tires and exhaust are laying down a veneer of ice.
- I'm not crazy. Riding a bike is how I get around. Trust me, I'm not trying to prove a point or make you feel guilty for burning fossil fuels. If I'm out there in 10° or there are six inches of snow, it means I have to get somewhere, too. Heck, my destination might even be as important as yours.
- Spare me your outrage. Don't blast your horn or drive close and fast when passing to show me how much I've inconvenienced you. (A light warning tap from a distance is okay.) I have to concentrate on the road ahead and stay upright. It's the snow that's going to make you late for that important whatever, so don't take it out on the cyclist who accounts for three seconds of your delay.