Thursday, December 2, 2010

Little death-traps of snow

During an Aggie Cycling training camp four years ago, my second-favorite female teammate might have called me a "pussy." That may not have been her exact word, but since she used to be a Marine, who knows? 

I grew up in Nebraska, so I know winter. But three years of living in California helped me forget. It doesn't get really cold in Northern California, especially not along the coast of Sonoma County. But during that January training camp, it WAS really cold, so we had to ride through patches of ice hidden in the shadows of redwood trees stretched across the road.

My second-favorite female teammate and I were pulling a group of 20 riders; the "A" men had mountain-goated up and over the side of the hill, so the "A" women and the "B" men were trying to organize all of the rookie and "C" riders into a double paceline. Things were not going well. Most of the newbies hadn't ridden in a group that big, many of them were skittish about riding so close to people, and some eager guys kept gapping slower riders by pulling through too fast. It was, to adopt another Marine Corps colloquialism, a "total cluster."

So Amy the Marine, my second-favorite female teammate, started sitting on the front and not letting people pull through. I rolled up next to her, and we set a moderate pace to keep everyone together.

The goal was to teach people how to sit in close quarters and draft, so Amy and I tried to maintain a steady cadence and even tempo. But every time we came across a patch of ice, I involuntarily braked and sent a ripple back through the peleton. Just the thought of riding a 23 cm tire at speed through frost and ice kind of freaked me out, and I told her so. That's when Amy smiled and called me a "pussy."

I was a little smitten.

I have no idea what Amy's doing now; she finished an engineering degree at Davis, went to work for Lockeed, and stopped racing her bike. But the memory of her face popped into my head today as I rode along the Keystone Trail.

See, I've promised myself and others that I'll ride my bike outside all through this Omaha winter. I didn't get out last year--back pain, huge snowfalls, etc etc. But I'm healthy and motivated now, so I want to capitalize.

Since the start of the fall, I've ridden in 19, 26, and 33 degrees. And I feel like kind of a bad ass. I enjoy the pained nose and numb toes, even while I'm bitching about them. There's a rugged individualism and sense of accomplishment that comes from outlasting all the (sane) people who refuse to (have enough sense not to) venture outside into blistering winds and crunchy air.

But I'm still apprehensive about riding in snow and ice. Omaha got a little of both on Monday; the intersection at the bottom of the hill beneath my house looked like a demolition derby when I left to take the girls to school. Most of it melted yesterday, so at noon today I rolled down my driveway and north along Country Club Blvd.

It was sunny and 38 when I left the house. My new Bontrager RLX booties seem like an improvement over my softshell Pearl Izumis; my toes got chilly, but not at all numb.

I tacked northwest from Dundee through the Keystone neighborhood to Democracy Park, the northern terminus of one of Omaha's major hike/bike trails. The trail was bone dry as I spun southward, and the tailwind pushed me along at 22 mph. I was spinning so lazily that I almost didn't see it until I was on top of it:

Okay, so this is a summer photograph that I found online. But see the shadow cast across the trail by the overpass? Yeah, that bit of pavement was covered in solid ice and inch-deep snow this afternoon. I immediately thought of Amy: "E,  just coast right through it! I thought you were from Nebraska--you should know how to handle ice. Pussy." I think I remember the first part of her advice word for word, but I'm still not sure if she swore at me. That might have been my third-favorite female teammate, the one who never hesitated to tell me, in no uncertain terms, exactly what she thought.

So when I almost hit the patch of ice and snow today, I slammed on my brakes, skidded to a halt, and called myself a pussy. And that's exactly what I did every single time I came across a patch of ice. I think it happened five times in half an hour. Five times I told myself, "just roll right through it," skidded to a halt, and called myself a pussy. Five times. 

But I rode outside in December.

At least the trail didn't look like this:

But it will, sooner or later. If this winter is more like some of the ones I remember from my childhood, snow will fall, melt, and fall again. Maybe not every week, and maybe we'll have stretches in the 30s and 40s in February. But I'm preparing for the worst. I just gotta learn to sack up in the snow.

To that end, I have chosen a winter / 'cross / touring bike: the
Soma Doublecross. If my spreadsheets are correct, a 60 cm
built up with SRAM Rival, a Bontrager X-Lite AL cockpit, and my trusty Kysrium hoops should tip the scales at just over 19.5 pounds--almost 3-4 pounds lighter than the Fisher Presidio or Surly Cross-Check I was thinking about getting. I still really like the Presidio; Munson's is cool as hell, but it's just a bit too heavy.  I almost bought a used LeMond Poprad  last week, but I couldn't confirm that the inside of the tubes had been rust-proofed, so I let it go.

I think the Soma will be a good get. And the fact that the company is named after a San Francisco neighborhood bespeaks my cautious optimism about the course of my academic career. Plus, there are many online pictures of the Doublecross  that look like this one:

Let it snow.


  1. Good post, E.O'B. Looking forward to riding with you this winter.

    When the road is straight, you can typically let your fears go over snow/ice. However, when the road bends, the slightest turn on a sheet of ice can send the most experience rider for a spill.

    As for the Keystone, the scariest portions are always going through the underpass, as snow melt pools under there for the deep freeze. It's also in a blind spot, immediately after a downhill portion and often involves some amount of turning. Unfortunately, that's when most realize that they're in deep shit. Panic ensues, brakes lock and the bike slides out from underneath, dumping the rider on the path or into the rocks heading down to the frozen creek. It's really a scene you'd want to avoid.

    My advice is to bypass the underpass (take the high road if you can), or proceed with caution with the possibility of dismounting.

    I doubt Amy would call you a pussy for that. I certainly wouldn't.

  2. I tried a Soma Stanyan a couple years ago. Since they didn't have the frame weight listed, I just assumed it would be the same as the Double Cross. Boy was that wrong. It was pretty stout. And by stout, I mean heavy. Nearly as heavy as my Presidio. And a couple details on the Stanyan made me sell it pretty quick. Mainly, it was too short. The top tube length was perfect, but without a ton of spacers and a rising stem, I would've had a huge saddle to bar drop. Not as bad as Ryan Trebons, but pretty bad. That was one of the only bad experiences I've had with ordering a bike without seeing it first. Make sure to check out the head tube length and everything to make sure, if you order the size by top tube length, that everything works out.

    I think my Presidio is going out for it's first winter gravel adventure this weekend. Should be fun! And by fun, I mean heavy.