There are five types of snow that I recognize when riding. In order to master winter riding, you must remember all five types of snow.
The first kind is the easiest to deal with – the freshly fallen snow. Your tires can generally punch through about three or four inches of freshly fallen snow without too much trouble. But if a car has gone before you, stay out of the tire tracks. The car’s tires will compact the snow just enough so that you think it will hold, and then when you go to pedal, the ground will shift and you will have to put a foot down.
But that is it; at the worst you might just have to put a foot down a couple of times. Freshly fallen snow is babycakes. Easy peasy. Nobody has ever wiped out on freshly fallen snow.*
*This is not true. Loads of people have wiped out in freshly fallen snow. I have too. I am just saying this so you feel more confident.
The second kind of snow happens when the snow is packed down by lots of cars, but the temperature is low enough so that the compacted snow hasn’t melted at all. Fresh snow, packed hard onto the street. The hard-packed snow is, by far, the best kind of snow for riding your bike on. You can get up some reasonable speed, and you can have a lot of fun fishtailing and drifting on the street. Give yourself plenty of time to stop, or you will blow past a stop sign by accident, and a garbage truck smoosh you flat.
The key here, though, is that you will be having a tremendous amount of fun all the way up until you are smooshed flat. That is the great news about hard-packed snow. You will have loads of fun until you die suddenly.
The third kind of snow looks like dirty mashed potatoes on the ground. This is the most horrible type of snow. Just when you think you have traction, it slips out from under your wheel. You can’t lean into any turns, and you are constantly flicking wet, sloppy snow up onto your back.
Plus, when you get to work, your bike clothes are dripping wet. And when you are done with work, will your bike clothes be dry? No. They will not be dry. They will still be wet and cold and you will sit for five minutes in the locker room just thinking about putting those sloppy wet tights on before you finally do it.
“Can I just ride home naked?” you will ask yourself. No, you cannot ride home naked. Minneapolis has a law about it. No naked cyclists in the wintertime. Look it up.
The fourth kind of snow is black ice. Once, on my way to work a couple of years ago, I ran into a patch of black ice on a ninety degree corner. As soon as I leaned into the corner I fell down and started sliding. A fancy Buick hit the same patch of black ice coming the other way on the street. From my perspective – on the ground, in front of the car – I could easily see the Buick’s wheels clinch up, and then start sliding.
“Hmm, I thought, “The sliding coefficient of friction does appear to be quite a bit lower than the static coefficient of friction.”
The Buick missed me by about a foot. Took out a mailbox behind me. I picked my bike up, and rode the rest of the way to work. My spandex had a big old hole in the side of them, and my leg looked a bit like hamburger.
After I had ridden a few more blocks in my newly drafty spandex I had some more time to think. “That would have been bad if the Buick had smooshed me flat.” I thought.
When I got to work I raided the first aid box for some gauze pads and neosporin. Had to throw the spandex away. Big ‘ol hole.
And the fifth type of snow is…
No idea. I forgot it.