Old Man Winter has gone far at his way this year to give me almost every type of Winter biking experience I can imagine. Rain, snow, bitter cold, rain and snow, snow and bitter cold, packed snow, glare ice, packed snow and glare ice and giant puddles with submerged ice. Yes, folks. It has been a real party. I have two bikes to choose from. Up until the weather got nasty I preferred a Bionx kit mounted on a mountain bike. I also have a wilderness energy mounted on the front hub of the townie 21. I really like the Bionx because of the awesome range of lithium-ion battery and the speed of the combination. I am not a huge fan of mountain bikes on snow because falls can happen fairly quickly and fairly painfully. The first day the roads were really nasty I had a brain storm. The townie is designed with the pedals considerably forward of the seat, and the seat fairly close to the ground. Close enough in fact that in a comfortable riding position it is easy to put both feet flat on the ground without moving from the saddle. I thought this might be helpful on slick roads. I was right.
I won't go to the blow-by-blow learning process, none of which involved actually falling, but here's what I've learned.
Deep snow, a foot and a half or more: forget it. If you have a little to go through just get off and push. If you have a lot to get through, leave the bike at home and walk. Deep snow just has way too much resistance to make it worth the effort. Anything less than that and it is pretty easy to muddle through with more speed and less effort than walking would require. I should also say that deep as a relative term. We had about a foot of freshly fallen snow that was actually quite easy to ride through. A week or so later some brutal winds came through and moved all the snow around. Four inches or more of the windblown snow was nearly impossible to ride through. I got a really good workout that day.
Deep water, an inch or more: go slowly and stick your feet way out. The fenders will keep most of the water off (I hope you didn't skip the fenders) but the splash from the wheels can still drench your feet up to midcalf. The reason for going slowly is you never know what is going to be underneath the dirty water. I have been surprised several times by potholes lurking beneath and even ice. Sometimes rather oddly shaped ice. In a moment of youthful exuberance a couple of weeks back I hit a deep puddle at about 15 miles an hour in the next three seconds were very exciting. My bike caromed off an icy stalagmite forcing me to jump off the other way to save us both. I wound up with two boots brim full of very cold water. I am lucky I managed to not let go of the bike because no system I have ever heard of is designed to survive complete submersion.
Sheet ice: slow to 3 or 4 miles an hour, plan on not turning for a while, drag your feet along the ground, and use the throttle if you need to keep your speed up. It is amazing the amount of crap I have been able to get through this way. I have taken a tumble into this winter walking across things that I've later biked across with no problem whatsoever. Dragging my feet is just precaution mostly because the ice always has some texture to it. In the morning it is sometimes hard to see the hills and valleys that passing cars have cut into it. If the bike does start to get squirrelly it is nice to have the extra support at the ready. For awhile I naïvely thought that walking to work would be easier when the streets are mostly ice. In practice it is much easier to bike especially when you have a motor to help. I think the relatively smooth, soft tread of the townie tires might be helping grip the ice as well.
I am really looking forward to seeing how the lithium batteries on the Bionx do in the winter cold, but until the road conditions improve its just not worth risking my face. (And for those of you who have actually seen my face please skip the easy joke. Your forbearance is appreciated. :-)