2 wheels and occasionally treacherous conditions

2 wheels and occasionally treacherous conditions

There was a time not too awfully long ago when I often felt I was the only bicycle on the road when the temperature dipped below freezing. The times have changed.

Anyone traveling the byways of Amish Country can now pretty much count on seeing a two-wheeled contraption of one sort or another on nearly any day of the year. If I was a betting man, it would be a fair wager to claim the e-bike has been more heavily adopted here in our area than anywhere else in the nation. And when you pay a whole lot of money for a vehicle and count on it to get you places, you’re not likely to let cold hands and a frozen nose slow you down.

There are plenty of strategies to prevent the freezing of important body parts, beginning with handlebar mittens and woolen scarves and perhaps ending with battery-heated socks, gloves, vests and even balaclavas — those pull-over “bank robber” style masks that cover your head and face, save for the eyes.

Personally, the only battery-powered items in my setup are my headlights and taillights. I’m still pushing the pedals the old-fashioned way, burning lots of calories and generating a lot of body heat in the process. That’s always been a part of my mission, but I definitely don’t disrespect the folks who are out there with me on battery-powered bikes — especially those who are using them as a primary mode of transportation. Any mile traveled by bicycle — whether pedal-powered or electrified — is a much more environmentally friendly mile than one traveled in a car or truck.

Folks often ask what sort of conditions will force me to call off a wintertime ride, and the answer often surprises them. It’s not the cold in and of itself; it’s the road conditions. I’ve ridden to work in temperatures as cold as 5 F (a borderline painful practice I wouldn’t necessarily recommend), but the conditions — clean, moisture-free roads and zero wind — made it doable. No, the stopper for me is the possibility of ice on the pavement.

Snow across the landscape doesn’t necessarily mean the roads are unsafe. The salt spread on the roadway naturally works its way to the gutter line as the snow melts, and a wide berm is often fine to ride, especially in temperatures upward of 30 F. Furthermore, the wider tires found on e-bikes are a little more forgiving of the occasional slick spots than the “skinnies” I run on my rig for most of the year.

What I’ve found to be downright dangerous, however, are temperatures in the 20s with deceivingly clear roads. Bridge decks are the biggest peril. It’s easy to forget, when the roads are clear, bridges do not benefit from the same “warm mattress” that insulates the underside of the rest of roadway. A bridge deck is the very same temperature as the air outside, and because of that, it can draw a thin layer of ice even when the rest of the road is fully ridable. Throw in the added water vapor coming off the creek, stream or river that might be running beneath the bridge and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

For those of you joining me out on the road on two wheels at this time of year and also those of you who may be passing by in more traditional forms of wintertime transportation, please be especially careful — and watch those bridges!

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com. You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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