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On Biking: He has surrendered to the snow

Posted by Your Town  February 5, 2011 09:41 AM

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It’s official: I surrender. Please don’t be mad at me, fellow bikers, but I give up. At least for now.

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Until this last round of winter storms, the only thing that has kept me from riding my bike to work has been the threat of lightning. Rain alone is no big deal, that’s why I roll with GORE-TEX. Hazy, hot and humid? I just drink a little more water and I’m fine. Darkness? A good set of lights will let me see the road and the motorists see me. Sub-freezing temperatures? No big deal: layers, Windbloc and ChapStick will take care of the cold.

A few years ago I stopped riding once it started snowing. I like commuting by bike, but even more I like safety. The problem is black ice: when I’m not careful it will take me down every time. Sure I can manage, as long as I don’t turn, brake or accelerate. Also, I make sure to keep my arms relaxed and loose. The problem is that when a car slows down I have to brake, when there’s ice up ahead I have to turn, when I’m going uphill I have to accelerate, and when I’m cold and hungry it’s hard to stay loose and relaxed.

And then I got lucky. Several years ago I was walking to work after a big snowstorm, the kind that always kept me off of my bike, when I saw a woman cycle by. “How’s it going?” I asked her. “Not bad as long as you use studded tires,” she replied. I had never heard of studded tires but that night I hopped on the internet and up popped a photo of Dave from my Charles River Wheelmen Saturday morning fitness ride, happily pedaling through a foot of snow.

Three-days later I was the proud owner of a set of studded tires. They’re not perfect, but if I use them wisely I stay upright. I think that’s all I can ask for when it is cold and slippery outside and anyone with an ounce of sense is warm and inside.

Fast forward to this winter of too much snow and my waving of the white flag. Roads that were once two-lanes wide have been reduced to a single lane of traffic. Worse, many motorists continue to drive fast, brake hard and pass me with inches to spare. In short, a recipe for an adverse outcome.

It’s gotten so tough out there that I don’t feel comfortable even when I’m driving. Snowbanks make it hard to see what’s up ahead, pedestrians dart across the road, and the driving conditions are just plain treacherous. At least when I’m in my car I’m surrounded by metal. On my bike there’s no such safety cushion.

I could make a political statement, a declaration that “I belong on these roads and no car is going to keep me from riding.” However, I just don’t feel safe biking under these conditions. I’m not saying that bikes don’t belong on the roads: they do. I’m also not telling everyone else what to do: everyone gets to decide for themselves when it no longer feels like a good idea to ride. For some people, that’s anytime they can’t be on a separated bike path. For others, our narrow, snow-filled streets are no big deal. For me, for now, I’ve had enough. I’m waiting until the the snow melts or it’s Opening Day at Fenway, whichever comes first.

Still, I hesitate to surrender, even temporarily. I worry that my fellow cyclephiles will call me a traitor and I fear that by calling it a day, I’m reinforcing the cyclephobes’ belief that we need new laws to get bikes off the road. But at the end of the day, I’ve decided to retreat for now so that I can live to ride another day. Because really, this snow has got to stop sometime, right?

Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist who is temporarily enjoying the pleasures of walking and using his Charlie Card.

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