Riding through this snow all alone

The Bakfiets is doing well, thank you for asking! And to all of you who think commuting by bicycle through the winter is not possible I tell you, it is. It’s even possible up here in Stockholm with a cargo bike and it’s lots of fun.

PS. I will update the gallery as snow keeps falling.

winter tires on the CargoBike (Bakfiets.nl) Short

Lots of people treat winter as the bike commuting off-season and most winter cycling tips out there are either written by buy-as-much-accessories-as-you-can-but-seldom-ride cyclists or people who just don’t ride their bike at all during winter but believe their opinion matters nonetheless.

I’ll soon bicycle commute for the fourth winter in a row and I’ll do it with the CargoBike (Bakfiets.nl) Short for the first time this year. I tried to find information on what kind of tires people use to get these tanks roll through snow but could not find many different alternatives.

Most seem to go for Schwalbe Marathon Winter but I really didn’t want tires with spikes. I don’t think spikes are necessary around Stockholm and I’ve been doing just fine without for the last four winters (the one time I crashed during winter was on a bike with spikes). Moving 100+ kilograms on 20+ kilometers everyday is already hard enough and I didn’t feel like pushing harder on the pedals because of the added rolling resistance of studs (whatever people say spikes DO increase rolling resistance) and so I went for my own setup:

Winter tires on a Bakfiets.nl Short, Stockholm, Sweden

I’ll keep you posted. Let’s roll.

this is a ‘gender equal’ post title

Winter prioritized bike-lane maintenance is in full swing and shows great results. Feedback from winter bicycle commuters have never been better* but there is always space for improvement -no matter how good the maintenance- and the magicians at the City of Stockholm have come with yet another trick to reach world-class status: ‘gender equal’ snow ploughing.

* warning, may contain sarcasm.

In 2012, the modal share for the Municipality of Stockholm was as follow: 23% chose to get around in giant steel boxes while 77% of us chose to either walk, take public transportation or ride a bicycle. But instead of concentrating their efforts on a clear majority politicians were, already in 2013, trying to make things more complex than they actually were: ‘gender equal’ snow plough was born.

Stockholm is as a modern city and needs a modern way of ploughing […] I’m sure it will spread further. Stockholm as a big city can show the rest of the world how to do this, and lead by example. – Stockholm’s shadow city commissioner Daniel Helldén of the Green Party, 20131

The Green Party did not think it was modern and fancy enough to have ploughing to accommodate active commuters (77%) but would rather target footpaths, and cycle paths, which are more often used by women, instead of roads, mostly frequented by men. Right.

So what’s the difference? Drum roll. RRRLLLRRRLLL. Another drum roll. RRRLLLRRRLLL. None. Ingen. Aucune. 아무도 … 않다

Unfortunately, nothing really changed since that announcement and those who have had the chance to meet a service vehicle on a cycle path during winter could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Clearly Stockholm has not been leading by example since 2013 but this is about to change and deputy mayor and head of Stockholm’s traffic division just spoke out.

Statistics show that more pedestrians and bikers get hurt than motorists. Therefore it’s important to try to prevent these groups from tripping and injuring themselves. That is why we will prioritize the clearing and treatment of walkways and bike lanes in the future. – Daniel Helldén, deputy mayor and head of Stockholm’s traffic division, 20152

Obviously this revolutionary idea will require intense thinking and thorough planning before it is implemented. We’ll have to wait until November 2015 and then… we’ll be BACK TO SQUARE ONE.

  1. http://www.thelocal.se/20131211/snow-plowing-should-be-gender-equal-greens 

  2. http://www.thelocal.se/20150116/stockholm-to-get-gender-equal-snow-ploughs 

that time of year… when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

It’s full of “riding-studded-tires-or-not-because-it’s-getting-colder” stories, “looking-like-an-idiot-in-a-high-visibility-vest-or-not-because-it’s-getting-darker” arguments on the cycling interweb at the moment and so I don’t have to check the calendar or look out the window to know winter is just around the corner. Even a troglodyte could tell that Freds have stashed their plastic toys away for the next couple of months. It’s November 5 and, like pretty much every year, it’s Autumn time in the northern hemisphere.

Studded tires or not? You can read as much as you want, online or elsewhere, the first step to making the right decision would be to get on your bike on the first cold snowy day and think about equipment later. Swapping tires on a bicycle is quick and rather cheap (if you compare to the hassle the whole operation is with cars) and you don’t want to be this equipment-first-pleasure-last person riding studded tires already in September when it’s still 25ºC at night. Just in case.

Homemade studded tires

Then you really have three options. 1) the tires you currently have are good enough for the job, 2) you feel you need a bit more grip and knobby tires will do, 3) you’re mainly riding laps on an ice rink and studs are a must. I chose the second option three winters ago and bought a pair of Schwalbe CX Pro. They’ve done an excellent job so far and I’m just glad I don’t have to drag the extra kilogram and higher rolling resistance that come with studded tires. Feel free to hit the comments section and ask if you want me to elaborate on that choice.

But when it comes to wearing high visibility clothing I am very much against it. Don’t get me wrong, I buy the more-visible-is-safer argument. I really do. But I’m so annoyed cyclists and pedestrians let a few (in 2004, 23% of Stockholm commuted by car) dictate how and where it is safe or not safe to walk or ride a bicycle and don’t even question this absurd situation. I’m so annoyed people gave up and have come to accept they’re just moving targets, highly visible moving targets.

Spanish prostitutes ordered to wear reflective vests
You don’t want your next customer to run you over, do you?

Prostitutes working on the street outside a town northern Spain have been ordered to wear reflective vests to make them visible to passing traffic and reduce the risk of accidents. Women touting for customers on a rural highway outside Els Alamus near Lleida in Catalonia have been told to don the yellow fluorescent bibs or pay fines of 40 euros (£36) under road traffic laws.1

We (cyclists and pedestrians) should not even have to consider wearing high visibility vests and all. We should just wear whatever we feel like wearing and know we’re not going to be run over by a neighbor or… the next customer.

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8086050/Spanish-prostitutes-ordered-to-wear-reflective-vests-for-their-own-safety.html 

I’m your father…

Speaking of spring being on its way I was a bit too optimistic and Mother Nature made it very clear this morning: she decides when I can just wear shorts or when I must put the long johns on.

Spring is NOT on its way!

Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work. – velominati.com

-12°C, blue skies: sunny but rather cold 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) ride to work this morning. What about yours?

Update. Looks like it’s going to be cold all week: Sweden hit by ‘unusually low’ temperatures

Chrome Kursk Pro

Spring is on its way (I can hardly remember last time I rode on asphalt) and, even though it still is a bit chilly in Stockholm (between -10°C and 0°C), it’s time to think about warmer rides.

I ride clipless all year round and finding the right shoes, commuting shoes especially, is not that easy. “Standard” clipless shoes are usually designed for lycra-clad roadies and, the fact of not being warm enough for winter aside, don’t do any good to the everyday cycling community. No I don’t want to look and sound too much like an idiot when I’m at the museum after a short after-work ride.

For the cold and wet winter rides I use my Five Ten Cyclone shoes which I find water and windproof enough but more importantly warm even when it’s -10°C and below.

But those shoes are a bit heavy and look rather massive so I wanted something lighter and more casual for summer. There are basically two brands that make casual (sneakers like) clipless shoes: DZR & Chrome Industries. I tried a couple of DZR models but did not really feel comfortable in them. Instead I found the Chrome Kursk Pro to be exactly what I needed.

Be careful if you’re going to order on-line because Chrome’s sizing is a bit off: my Five Ten are 7.5 (US) and I had to order 6.5 (US) for the Kursk Pro. I ordered the shoes from Tokyo Fixed (in London) last Friday and they were delivered to me yesterday (pretty quick).

I could not resist and took them for a ride this morning. They are a bit stiff compared to the Cyclone but they’re new and the Cyclone are already a year old so it should get better. They are light (so much lighter!), well finished and mounting the Crank Brothers cleats was very easy.

One remark to myself though: spring is on its way BUT has not yet arrived and those shoes are definitely not warm enough for sub-zero temperatures! I guess I’ll have to ride with the Five Ten Cyclone for a while longer.

the rusted chainline

It has been snowing quite a lot for the last couple of weeks and when you combined melting snow with salt you get a pretty aggressive cocktail that does no good to a bike.

My last blog post was 10 days ago but yes I am alive – CX Pro tires for the win but I keep knocking on wood – and still riding the fixed gear back and forth in the city. I manage to lock the bike indoors most of the time – at the office & at home – and keep it dry but I had to leave it outside the house for only one night: below is a picture that just shows the effect of the salty cocktail.

Snow, salt & chain lube

Time for maintenance on the drivetrain: the chain, chainring and sprocket need brush love and lube.

what a week

It’s Saturday morning, I’m sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, sore legs and mixed feelings after the last couple of days: it has been quite a commuting experience to say the least.

It all started with freezing cold weather (between -10°C and -15°C) on Monday and Tuesday but roads were clean and apart from the extra time it took to dress up accordingly the daily rides were business as usual and quite enjoyable.

But on Wednesday the weather Gods – for some obscure reason – decided to punish us all and poured thousands of cubic meters of fresh snow all over Stockholm.

“Crews at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport were forced to remove 200,000 cubic metres of snow in the wake of the storm, nearly as much as the 250,000 cubic metres removed for the entire 2011-2012 winter season.” – thelocal.se

And chaos it was. Complete chaos. The city buses were pulled out of service, commuter trains and subways faced severe delays when not cancelled and people had to find a way to get home: a colleague even walked 16 kilometers not even trying to hail a nowhere to be found available cab.

Snow, snow & snow
Snow chaos, svd.se

I half walked, half rode the bike in deep fresh snow between the office and home and made it back in an hour or so (compared to the usual 25 minutes). It felt like the worst ride ever at the time but having the bike with me in those conditions was probably the best choice in retrospect.

Thursday morning’s ride was still a bit rough with not all of the bike lanes cleared and ridable but everything was back in order on Thursday evening.

I can understand how frustrated Stockholmers have felt during the storm – let down by the public transport system having to find an alternative to get home – but let’s face it: which city in the world would have done better? Everything was up and running in less than 24 hours after the first flake came down and I must admin that I am quite impressed by how the situation was handle and the amazing work done by the snow plow crews who have been working 24/7 since then.