Night Time Commute in Denver’s Winter Ice Land
by Mike Depot
The city is covered in ice but I’m not messing around; I’ve got places to be and my bicycle, by gum, is going to get me there. It was dark, my bike lights lit up the road revealing a pure sheen of frosty crystals. Despite the fat tires on my ancient Gary Fisher bike, the back end was sliding around like an angry barracuda, threatening to spill me over the handlebars. Well, sections of the road at least. I had options. Picking and choosing my way through dry road patches, grippy snow crusts and even the occasional sidewalk diversion was getting me forward. I was making progress, slowly. I was learning how to bike all over again under different circumstances, rethinking body position, concentrated on accessing road conditions every second, creating multiple routes every moment, in other words, it was adventure time.
Mistakes were made. Going down a side alley, thinking the ice wouldn’t be as pronounced, proved problematic; the bike sank in an unexpected slurry of water and ice sending cold ropes of spray onto my crotch and legs after which I navigated right into the worst ice skating rink in the world, sliding like an unmanned speed boat towards a purple recycling bin with the save coming only after I was resting an elbow on a crumbling brick garage wall.
But you learn fast on a winter bike commute. You find a rhythm after your mistakes, avoiding what could put you on the ground or in the way of the headlamps on a barreling SUV. It can be done after all. It’s just a little harder and requires more thought. But let’s be clear, winter commuting in the city is Pure Adventure after a dull day at work. Think about adding it to your day.
Winter Commuting 101
- Ride a mountain bike. There’s no other way. The fatter and grippier the tires the better.
- Replan your route based on conditions. Your summer bike commute won’t work here. Find streets with less traffic. These streets actually tend to be better to ride because sometimes unplowed streets can be easier to ride than plowed, icy streets.
- Get off the bike. Sometimes it’s the safest option. Get back on when the road is better.
- The sidewalk is your friend. In a pinch get up on it. Watch for pedestrians.
- Invest in a good pair of lights. You need to see the road and cars need to see you.
- Wear the right clothing. Running/skiing/hiking stuff transfers well for biking. Bright and reflective is a plus while a pair of bike specific winter gloves are absolutely worth the cost. Don’t have the dough for high-tech clothing? Go to a thrift store, they’ve got loads of that material for cheap.
- Don’t mess with ice. Put a foot down, get off the bike, bike on the sidewalk until it’s clear. Falling is not an option.
- Avoid cars but assert yourself when necessary. If the bike lane is full of snow and ice get into the road. Cars treat bicyclists like lepers in the winter; they’re more afraid of hitting them. If you’re holding up traffic, find a good place to pull off and let them through. When it’s clear, continue being a badass.
- Install some fat platform pedals. Your feet won’t slip off and you can wear boots.
(Disclaimer: Photo was taken by and owned by Denver Post)