Riding the icestorm in Portland: A few tips

Riding the icestorm in Portland: A few tips

My snow bike

My chosen tool for bike fun today.

With the City of Portland and other agencies telling everyone to stay indoors due to the sheet of ice that has blanketed our town, I couldn’t wait to leave the house this morning and see if I could still ride a bike.

So, I went out to my shed, pulled down my mountain bike and headed out. Turns out it’s not as bad as I expected. That being said, if you do plan to play around the neighborhood on your bike today, here are a few tips to consider.

  • The bike I’m using is a 29-inch mountain bike with 2.2-inch knobby tires. Either a similar mountain bike or a fat bike is highly recommended.
  • Lower your tire pressure to get more traction. Less air means more of the rubber and knobs on your tires will come in contact with the ground. More contact the better.
  • Use flat pedals if you have them. Platform pedals are easier to quickly step out of and give your shoes more surface area.
  • Lower your saddle. This does several things: It will lower your center of gravity and it will make it easier for you to put your feet down/out for balance. My saddle is low enough that I can walk my bike down the street like a child on a balance bike.
  • Stay perpendicular to the ground. When you turn your bars or your bike, make sure you are as upright as possible. Any leaning to either side and you will likely slide out.
  • Avoid hard-packed areas like where cars have been driving. The softer sections yield much more traction. Yes, you have to break through a top-sheet of ice, but I find that much easier than riding on the very slippery hard-packed sections.
  • Watch for little ruts; but if you do find yourself mounting one, don’t panic. Panic is a killer. If you have low tire pressure, just let it roll when you hit a bump or a rut, stay upright, and you’ll probably be fine.
  • Try the sidewalk. On many streets, the sidewalk is a good option. Not only can you avoid any auto traffic and those wheel-ruts, but there’s likely and softer snow on the sidewalk. That being said, watch out for sections of sidewalk that have been shoveled as they can be the slickest and iciest of all.
  • Be honest and assess your abilities before trying to ride in these conditions. In other words, if you don’t feel comfortable and your gut tells you it’s a bad idea: don’t try it. If you feel you can push your comfort level just a bit, and you know you have good bike-handling skills, then give it a try.

Feel free to share your tips and experiences with today’s conditions in the comments. And have fun out there (or in there if you’ve decided to just stay inside)!

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