Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Cold Weather Riding - Traction
Autumn is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and with falling leaves and shorter daylight hours comes the threat from Jack Frost and Old Man Winter, but that doesn't mean you have to stop riding. You can extend your riding time past the "riding season" by exploring the wonderful world of cold weather riding, unless you live in the snow belt of course. Many of us live in areas where we rarely see snow, so why not ride? I ride in the cold weather for the challenge and I guess for the same reason why climbers climb, because it was there. The "how" on the other hand is a little more difficult to explain. I'll start with traction, how I assess the risk and decide whether or not to ride or admit defeat and succumb to using the car.
There is plenty to consider when venturing out in the cold and as with any ride, risk is the most important factor you must take into account. Steve of Scooter in the Sticks just wrote about risk and getting your head around cold weather riding.
Along with risk, weighing heavy is traction. The air is cold, your tires are cold and the road is cold. This is going to affect how the bike handles and how you handle the bike. Every move you make is going to be compromised, from accelerating, to turning, leaning and especially stopping. You could simply make it a rule that you don't ride below a certain temperature, but you're going to have to decide what that temperature is. Slowly and carefully work your way down to colder temperatures.
When the temperatures drop below 36° or so and the weather is questionable I check the thermometer, take my cup of coffee and I stroll outside and down the street. I'm looking for any signs of frost, moisture on the road from either fog or the previous night's rain and glare on the road from porch lights, streetlights or car headlights. I check the lawn, the windshield on the car, the tops of mailboxes, manhole covers or anything that will give me an indication that frost is present and may be slippery. I know that my input to the controls of the bike is going to have to be slow and precise. I can't grab a fist full of throttle or a handful of brake. Crosswalk lines, painted arrows, and corners are going to be slick. I have to be that much more aware.
Pay attention to the weather, short of becoming a meteorologist, note that yesterday's highs are going to affect the morning commute. Was is sunny and warm, was it rainy and cool or has it been below freezing for days on end? If it was sunny and warm or rainy then chances are that the ground temperature will be warmer than the air temperature. Notice how snow doesn't stick without numerous days of below freezing temperatures and it just melts to a slushy mess? However, if it has been below freezing for several days then I'm checking radar maps for it be dry without any chance of rain in the forecast before I head out.
Once I'm out I'm always watching for changes in texture of road surfaces and any changes in color. They don't call it black ice for nothing. Bridges and hidden culverts are the most dangerous, anything open to the air underneath can be frosty. Watch for corners with trees overhanging the road, with the sun so low in the sky this time of year the road stays wet and can turn to ice overnight. Wet leaves and moss are great indicators of shady corners. If it gets too slick on the secondary roads I'll stick to major highways and thoroughfares where traffic has a tendency to dry the roads and clear any debris.
If you are careful and use common sense, riding in the cold can be quite rewarding. Next I'll post up about gear.