First Winter Commute

Been awhile since I've embarked on any ride lately, especially to/from work. Had my chance yesterday to try out my new winter riding bibs, mount the studded MTB tires and ride into work; my first winter commute (with actual snow) ever.

There was a raffle going on at work for anyone who commuted with someone, or else was doing the driving for commuters. Our building doesn't have much for parking and with our annual Christmas luncheon going on, they needed to entice people to free up some parking spaces for the caterers and employees coming from the other building.

I decided I would just ride my bike if I could get entered into the drawing. It was confirmed that I could. As you would expect many people couldn't believe that I was going to do it, then actually follow through with it.

As it would turn out, the weather was actually pretty perfect for pulling this off. It hadn't snowed significantly for a few days, which gave road crews a chance to clear many of the streets I usually take riding into work.

I chose to drive about half-way in to a trailhead in Belmont, thus cutting my commute into a 11.5 journey instead of a 24 mile one. This was for two reasons:

1) I'm way too out of shape to be doing 48 miles in a day - on a heavy MTB with even heavier studded winter tires.

2) The rail trail is not plowed during winter for what would usually be the first 4 miles of my commute.

Leaving from Belmont turned out to be just right. It took an hour each way. It was 21 degrees and little to no wind. I was plenty warm in all my gear...which during a slow time in the ride, I calculated to be around $500 in just winter-specific gear. Of course, this has all been amassed over the last 3 years worth of riding in Michigan winters. It really is a necessity...getting the right gear for the right conditions. If you don't you won't have any fun and won't likely try it again.

The rail trail had maybe 1/2" of fresh powder on it. It was a nice, calm, smooth ride leaving Belmont. My light was more than adequate on the reflective surface. It took exactly 10 minutes (1 mile) for me to actually feel warm. Until then, it was the usual, "boy this is dumb, I should go back to the car" thoughts entering my head.

Once I reached the 5/3 Ballpark and city traffic the conditions were very different. Lots of slush from salted roads. Everything was wet, brown and dirty. My light didn't do much of anything, even on high power. Still, I trudged onward. I was a bit uneasy about parts of the ride in as I had to ride away from the shoulder of the roads more towards the car tracks where the footing was more stable. Everyone that passed me was more than accomodating, except one school bus who felt the need to honk at me as they passed and swerved into my lane. I got the number and reported the rather aggressive behavior to the transportation company. We'll see if I hear back from them. Likely not, I assume.

Once work was reached, the bike was a slushed up mess. I had to bounce the thing around to knock lots of crap off it before bringing it into the warehouse to thaw out for the day.

The ride home was just as uneventful. Because I was nervous about going down this giant hill on my usual route, and feared heading out to the busy traffic like that morning, I improvised and took some neighborhood streets to bypass both of those regions. The streets were not likely plowed in the last week - the snow was pasty - the kind that sticks in the tire lugs no matter what. It was rough steering, almost fell a few times, but kept upright. Seems I accidentally found a new way into work.

The ride back to the car on the rail trail was fun. Took my time. In the morning I felt pressure to ride fast so I made it to work in time. I was nice and cozy in my new gear.

I heard a quote a few weeks ago. Something like: "In cycling, there is no such thing as bad weather riding conditions. Just bad clothing & equipment choices." I tell that now to people as they tell me I'm crazy for riding in the winter. I actually feel bad for people that they don't get the chance to experience something different and "edgy" in their life.

With the Christmas and New Years holidays coming up, this may have been the last ride in 2013. This ride also put me over the 1,000 mile mark for this year. Way less than anticipated, but hopefully things will look up for 2014.

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