16 January 2011

Takin' It Slow In The Snow

When there's snow on the ground and ice on there road--the conditions we've had here since Christmas--you ride more slowly.  Of course, it makes sense, especially if you ride in the dark, as I sometimes do when I'm riding home from work.  There's nothing like hitting a patch of ice you didn't see when you're pedalling at 20 mph!

Even though I know it's sensible to ride more slowly in the conditions we've had, I don't make any effort to do so.  Somehow I just find myself pedaling, sometimes, as if the cold air were turning into molasses.  I wonder:  Does cold air slow us down?  Or is it the somnolence I often feel on winter days?  The latter makes some sense:  After all, most primates move more slowly--if, of course, they're not hibernating.  Does it have to do with the shorter days?

Or maybe it has to do with the fact that, about this time of year, I'm starting to lose whatever conditioning I built up during the summer and fall. 

Another good reason to cycle more slowly, I've discovered, is that brakes--rim brakes, anyway--seem to take longer to stop than they do in milder weather.  I wonder whether the cold surface of the rim has anything to do with it.  Or, perhaps, brake pads harden a bit in the cold.

From Cyclelicious

If my hypotheses are correct, do they also apply to disc brakes?  I've never owned a bike that had them, and I've ridden them only a couple of times, never in the cold.  But those of you who've ridden them--or all of you scientists and engineers:  What do you think?

I experienced the inverse of what I described the first time I cycled into the Alps. Just outside of Pontarlier, I had just crossed the border from France into Switzerland and, on a descent about a kilometer into Switzerland,  I got a flat.  When I pulled on my brake levers, it took more and more force to get the bike even to keep the bike from accelerating, let alone to slow it down or stop it.   Fortunately, the turns in the road weren't especially sharp and  only one car passed me from the time I pedaled out of Pontarlier.  So, I was able to stop the bike not far from the base of that descent.  

When I took off the wheel, my finger glanced off the side of the rim as if I'd touched a frying pan.  And my fingertip throbbed red for the rest of the day.  

I wonder what riding in winter there would've been like.


  1. In ice/snow, there's a lot more rolling resistance, and the moisture reduces stopping power much as it does in the rain.

    I think the wind chill helps slow us down as well...

  2. There is no difference in how the coaster brakes on my bikes stop, but the rim brakes are considerably less effective. Forgetting this, I almost rear-ended a car when going downhill a couple of days ago!