Winter bicycle season is truly upon us. It hasn't been a very consistent winter for snow. As the northern and southern systems continue to fight it out for primacy in Vermont the roller coaster of temperatures has resulted in "variable" snow conditions. Wet snow from last week frozen hard, then melted and rained on and frozen hard again this morning means that where the roads and paths are not clear, they are covered in a glaze of sun-pitted ice. The single-digit temperatures this morning didn't offer a lot of reassurance that the roads would get any better any time soon.
At the bottom of the first big downhill of my commute, there is a roundabout/cul-de-sac thing with a path exiting from it. You have to enter the roundabout on a right turn, transition to a left turn to follow it, then make a right turn to exit onto the path. I often overcook that turn as I carry speed from my downhill, ending up on the far left margin of the path as I get the bike back under me and straighten out to continue on my way.
I overcooked it just a wee bit this morning, in fact. It wouldn't have been a big deal except that there was some ice on the path. The bike slid off the path and down the grade next to it, with me in tow (and toe-clipped in, I might add). I felt my elbow hit first, and heard the loud smack as my helmet made contact. The aforementioned sun-pitted ice was like a big cheese grater underneath me.
I got up right away and got on the bike, cursing. I could feel a bruise ripening on my butt and a scrape on my knee as well as the pulse of pain on my elbow. At least my head felt OK. I had been riding "like a bag of wrenches" already, that sort of muddy, cruddy feeling you get that is the opposite of cruising down the road in full fitness with a tailwind. Now I was muddy and cruddy and in pain and nervous about falling again. If there is a way to tiptoe on a bike, I did it all the way to the office. In a quiet moment on the road, I noticed the tell tale ting-ting-ting sound of a derailer touching spokes on the rear wheel. Looking down, a yellow flag of fabric, the lining of my winter tights exposed by a big three-corner tear was evident as well.
Surprisingly, the indexing was still working just fine- but I must have bent something down there. A post-ride inspection showed a crack in the road crud and underlying paint on the derailer hanger, confirming my suspicions. I'll have to see if I can bend it back. The tights can be sewed back together. I'm bruised and scraped, but functional.
Still, an experience like this continues to lead me, Mr. Bike Commuter himself, to wonder aloud about the hopes and aspirations of bicycle advocacy here in Vermont. We want to get people on bikes, we want to get people out of their cars. People want to get to and from work, safely, consistently, efficiently. I live six miles from my office, living in and working in two of the most developed cities and towns in the state. And yet, the barriers to consistently getting to and from work car-free are considerable. If I can't bike, I default to the car. There's a bus, but its schedule gets me to work late and would force me to wait about 45 minutes after work to get a ride home. The objective is for Kate and I to continue to live "car-light," the dream would be to live "car-free." But in the depths of winter, I just don't see it, and I sometimes yearn for a car of my own.
I think about taking the average adult in my position, who maybe hasn't ridden a bike since they were 13 and hasn't ridden on the road ever. Winter clothes? the ability to diagnose and fix a bent derailer hanger? The ability to put together a bike suitable for riding in the winter? What about overcoming a lifetime of being taught that "bikes belong on the sidewalk?" What about not wanting to be that weird person at the office who rides their bike to work? What about picking up the kids on the way home? What about getting yelled at by drivers?
I'm prepared to soldier on, and I have the goal of commuting by bike as consistently as I can through the winter. So far, of 12 working days in 2012, I have commuted 10.5 times. That's a pretty good record. For all the pain and inconvenience of this morning, it felt pretty good to be on the bike when I saw one of my fellow cyclists headed the other way and we gave each other a hearty, knowing wave.