Itís official: I surrender. Please donít be mad at me, fellow bikers, but I give up. At least for now.
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, thatís why I roll with GORE-TEX. Hazy, hot and humid? I just drink a little more water and Iím 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 Iím not careful it will take me down every time. Sure I can manage, as long as I donít 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 thereís ice up ahead I have to turn, when Iím going uphill I have to accelerate, and when Iím cold and hungry itís 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. ďHowís it going?Ē I asked her. ďNot bad as long as you use studded tires,Ē 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. Theyíre not perfect, but if I use them wisely I stay upright. I think thatís 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.
Itís gotten so tough out there that I donít feel comfortable even when Iím driving. Snowbanks make it hard to see whatís up ahead, pedestrians dart across the road, and the driving conditions are just plain treacherous. At least when Iím in my car Iím surrounded by metal. On my bike thereís no such safety cushion.
I could make a political statement, a declaration that ďI belong on these roads and no car is going to keep me from riding.Ē However, I just donít feel safe biking under these conditions. Iím not saying that bikes donít belong on the roads: they do. Iím 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, thatís anytime they canít be on a separated bike path. For others, our narrow, snow-filled streets are no big deal. For me, for now, Iíve had enough. Iím waiting until the the snow melts or itís 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, Iím reinforcing the cyclephobesí belief that we need new laws to get bikes off the road. But at the end of the day, Iíve 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.