Bullitt cargobike in English snow

So the Danes are used to coping with snow 🙂

Things are a bit different here in England.

  1. We don’t usually get anything like as much snow as the Danes (we had between 2 and 3cm overnight here in Syston, Leicester).
  2. We don’t clear cycle paths (or most pavements which I think this is a huge safety problem, especially for the elderly) of snow and don’t sprinkle grit/salt on them either.

This means that cyclists are frequently riding on roads where there is the full range from clear to fresh snow, then compacted ice via compacted snow. The edges often collect slush and ice making them treacherous for cyclists. As we don’t clear most pavements the snow gets compacted and turns to ice often lasting ages after the snow has gone everywhere else.

So I went for a ride this afternoon (after 5pm so it was properly dark) to try out some new clothing but also to see how my Bullitt cargobike would handle in these conditions.

Over 11 miles in -3C I tried a wide variety of conditions around here:

  • residential streets with no gritting/salt and a variety of traffic levels so conditions ranged from fresh snow through varying amounts compacting the snow to some that were just sheets of ice.
  • busier streets where the snow had mostly disappeared but the gutter sometimes had snow, sometimes ice in it
  • separated cyclepaths with either pretty fresh snow (encouragingly always some bike wheel tracks).
  • Paths through various bits of Watermead Park including some unsurfaced ones (exploring some bits I didn’t know in case I could find a route to Birstall from the northern part of Watermead that is not blocked by something impassible to cargobikes.
  • My route included four urban areas/towns/villages (Syston, Thurmaston, Belgrave, Birstall, Wanlip).
  • No real hills, steepest slope is from the canal up into Birstall where clearly cars had been slipping a lot

I did not fall off once. That will seems obvious to Europeans who are more used to bikes and snow. We English tend to assume that anything without 4 wheels and an engine will immediately fall over if there is any snow about.

In fact my Bullitt handled the conditions very nicely. I was in no hurry and was pretty cautious. I had my back wheel slip slightly under power climbing bridges over the canal twice. I locked my front wheel braking once (forgot that my Bullitt has the brakes the European way round, front on the left rather than the English front on the right) but the effect was much less than locking the front wheel on an ordinary bike so was no problem. I had a bit of deliberate fun with rear wheel skids a few times 🙂

I was actually surprised that the Bullitt went so well over quite long stretches of sheet ice (although I didn’t try stopping at that point I did make it over some speed bumps).

As you would expect the combination of hydraulic disc brakes and hub gears meant there were no mechanical problems. The only thing that did not work fully was that my phone camera flash was disabled due to the cold. So here are a couple of “atmospheric” shots as I left Birstall.



All in all very encouraging for me to continue to ride each day. Tomorrow morning I expect it to be pretty icy, but I only have to go about 4 miles to Harrison Road Methodist Church. Mind you I will be carrying about 40 copies of the hardback Methodist Worship Book, so I’ll probably just cut through the ice 🙂

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  1. Cycling gear for cold weather « 42 Bikes - pingback on November 27, 2010 at 10:17 pm
  2. Hate driving in these conditions (slight skid at a junction on one of the estates yesterday – frightens me to death). But, of the four times I’ve fallen off my bike as an adult, I remember the first very clearly – braking gently at traffic lights in icy conditions and the bike slipping away from under me (I was at Uni at the time but just like yesterday). Hybrid has very little tread on the front tyre – not bad on the back. Are you expected to change tyres for these conditions? Any advice? (really want to carry on cycling but not at risk of broken bones or worse)

    • Rachel,

      I’m no expert and have come off twice in recent years once on ice and once on snow. Will put my thoughts in a separate post.

      Key thing though is to be safe, I don’t think these conditions are appropriate to put pressure on yourself or to be “adventurous”. At least not near cars as so many drivers are impatient and inexperienced which is a lethal combination.

      Probably the best idea is to either move to the Netherlands or Copenhagen (both attractive options anyway) where they care for people on bikes or move to somewhere tropical where you also won’t have any problems 🙂

      • Thanks. Have decided to take car to Rothley – though best option would probably be to set off now and walk it!! My reaction times are not good (take Megazone as an example) which makes me particularly nervous about skidding in a car – my brain won’t move fast enough to remember what to do. Have often thought I ought to go to a skidpan for training but never got round to it.
        Re: moves abroad. Nice idea – but are you trying to get rid of me?

        • At megazone you chose to say it was because you didn’t like shooting people 🙂

          Allowing the time is probably the best solution to travel. Many people in cars seem to be going too fast for the conditions and also too close together.

          Walking is not a simple answer until we see councils gritting the pavements. So many pavements get the right amount of traffic to turn slow to sheet ice.

          I thought we could take the whole circuit abroad. Can we put it on the agenda for the next circuit meeting?

    • Rachel,

      They are expensive (and tight to fit) but Schwalbe Marathon Winter Performance Rigid Road Tyres are going to make a huge difference, especially on the front.

      Anyway I have written a new post with more thoughts.

  3. Tips wanted for cycling in the snow and ice « 42 Bikes - pingback on November 28, 2010 at 8:59 am

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