A Winter Adventure

snow_01

Last weekend, we took our children and their friends on a trip. Our car is too small to hold all of them, so my son and I decided to use a combination of train and bike to get to the destination, while the others drove. For us, it turned into a splendid adventure.

station_seattle

We started by riding to the station. The renovated King Street Station in Seattle is truly magnificent and uplifting. It really adds a sense of occasion to the trip. And on the regional Cascades trains, you can just roll on your bike (after making a reservation). If they could give you the seat assignement online as well, rather than making you stand in line, it would be perfect.

gravel_road

Our destination was just six miles from the train station at the other end, but those six miles were on a busy highway. So instead we had mapped a longer ride on small backroads. En route we added a few sidetrips exploring gravel roads.

icy_puddles

After a week of cold weather, the puddles on this road were frozen. My son is relatively lightweight, but I later broke through the ice on one of the puddles and splashed myself with muddy water. Even fenders can’t help you much when you suddenly crash into a deep puddle!

training_ground

You never know what you’ll find at the end of a small gravel road. My son had envisioned an abandoned farmhouse with an overgrown orchard, but instead, we ended up in some sort of guerrilla warfare playground.

guerilla_cross

It was a surreal maze of tires, wooden walls and stacked bricks. BBs littered the ground. The place was deserted and rather spooky. We did a few laps of “guerrilla cross” before heading on to our destination.

We had seen steely gray skies to the south that portended snow, and just minutes after we arrived at our destination, huge flakes started to fall in dense flurries. It snowed most of the night.

undulating_road

When it was time to head back in the morning, snow covered the fields and laced the evergreen trees with white. Unfortunately, salt had been spread on many roads, making the ride wet and slushy.

morning_snow

On roads where we found pristine snow, the riding was wonderful. On the uphills, we had to stay in the saddle and pedal smoothly, otherwise, our rear tires just spun. Braking on the downhills, our tires tended to lock up for a moment until we reduced the pressure on the brake levers. On snow, the bike’s reactions are slower, so there isn’t much risk of crashing even when your tires lock up.

mud_and_water1

My son was riding a bike without fenders, whereas I was on my fully equipped Urban Bike. Which is better? On the slushy roads, my son suffered a bit, as spray attacked him from all sides. It sprayed up from the front wheel into his face, it bounced off the down tube onto his legs and feet, and it sprayed up his back to run down his neck. He was enjoying the ride nonetheless.

fender_snow

I was glad about my fenders until we reached a stretch of road with particularly soft, sticky snow. It accumulated inside my fenders, and it soon became harder and harder to pedal, as the snow packed in tightly. I was afraid that if I stopped, the snow might freeze to the tires and lock my wheels. Even though my fenders have adequate clearances for most riding, I realized that if I were to ride frequently in snow, I might want to get a bike with even more generous fender clearances.

museum_snow

All these inconveniences were only a minor distraction as we admired the beautiful landscape and marveled at unexpected discoveries along the way. We found this cute car museum with an evocative collection of signs and other automobilia in a little hamlet of a dozen houses. A phone number indicated that one could visit the museum by appointment, but we had a train to catch and could not investigate further.

The trip was a splendid adventure. It certainly beat renting a second car or a van to carry everybody on the Interstate.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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37 Responses to A Winter Adventure

  1. What a great ride!

    I have found that if the rear of the fender is closest to the tire, snow doesn’t tend to jam up under the fender. The back edge of the fender shaves off the snow.

  2. Bryan Lorber says:

    You are indeed blessed to have a son who shares your passion for adventure cycling.

  3. Joe Ramey says:

    Thanks for sharing your adventure with us Jan. Picture nine: get some fenders on your son’s bike! :-)

  4. Eli says:

    What a wonderful account. I’ve really enjoyed my train-and-bike combination trips.

    Here in Chicago we are at 60-some inches of snow for the winter, and I’ve been having similar problems with the snow getting packed into my fenders. Does your bike have tire wipers? I have wondered if they would help with this issue at all.

  5. cbratina says:

    We have had wonderful experiences taking our tandem with panniers on trains in England and Europe. So I checked Amtrak after your great article and found that they won’t accept tandems and very few of their routes will accommodate single bikes. What a shame, you made me think of taking the train to the tandem rally in Burlington, VT.

    • Amtrak has a long way to go to become truly bike-friendly. I read somewhere that they are looking at better accommodations for cyclists. Perhaps there is somewhere we could weigh in to show that cyclists are keen on taking the train…

      • AC says:

        Sounds like a wonderful time. I would be interested in joining you and others in letting Amtrak know that we all would like more trains and routes made available to bicycles. This past fall I took my first bike tour on the Erie Canal Trail. Amtrak does allow boxed bikes from Boston to Chicago, however the number of trains are very limited. I wanted to park in Albany, box my bike and take the train to Buffalo, then ride the trail back to my car in Albany. Unfortunately the trains that allow baggage only run from Albany to Buffalo once a day, which would of made my arrival time in Buffalo about midnight. Because I didn’t want to arrive in a strange city at midnight, unbox my bike and make my way to a hotel, (I had enough trouble finding my way in the daylight) I was force to rent a car for the trip from Albany to Buffalo.
        In the state of CT where I live there isn’t any service at all for bikes boxed or not.

    • Doug says:

      I had some difficulty loading my tandem on the Cascades train in Eugene after a camping trip. This is after getting confirmation several times that there would be no problem. I was told at 8AM needed to check the tandem on the Coast Starlight which passes through Eugene at 6AM, of course. The station agent was unmoved by my claim that Amtrak customer service told me the tandem would be okay. He said there would be no room in the baggage car for our large bike.

      Fortunately, the ticket lady called ahead to Portland and asked if they’d be willing to transfer the tandem. They said it would be fine and we were able to load our tandem with the other bikes and everything went off without a hitch. When I checked the baggage car, I saw that they had just leaned the tandem against the wall! Plenty of room.

      Clearly they have the ability to be more accommodating bikes, but there is probably some organizational inertia working against it.

      • B. Carfree says:

        First off, unless something has gone horribly wrong, which happens occasionally, the Coast Starlight passes through Eugene northbound at 12:40 PM and southbound at 5:05 PM. I don’t know where that 6:00 AM thing came from.

        Second of all, while there are overly restrictive rules for bikes on Amtrak, the conductor effectively owns the train and can make any exceptions s/he wants to. Many years ago, I also called customer service and was told there would be no problem loading my tandem onto the Coast Starlight in Seattle for my return to CA. When I arrived, after a month on the road averaging 150 miles per day, the ticket agent told me no way. Once the train arrived, I talked to the conductor and he enthusiastically took my tandem on board. He particularly liked the “parking brake”, a simple friction shift that controlled the disc brake.

        Nowadays, I have S&S couplers to break my tandem into two halves, which allows me to either use the hooks on Capitals or Cascades trains or to put it into two boxes on the Coast Starlight.

        I did once get yelled at by a surly Amtrak employee in Seattle for boxing up a tandem frame that had been repaired in Seattle. She thought that bikes must be unboxed and loaded onto the hooks, but since it was just a frame, the conductor told her to butt out.

      • The inconsistency of Amtrak’s rules or their interpretations makes traveling with a bike stressful. I once went to a bike race in Eugene (Tour of Willamette) by train, long before the Cascades trains existed. I don’t remember what I was told about my bike when I made the reservation, but when I arrived at the station, same thing: “No way.” However, since I was standing there with a ticket in hand, one of the employees pointed to a small door on the side of the car. “Can we put it in there?” The conductor opened the door, which revealed a huge, empty storage space that could have held five bikes. That solved the problem.

        It would be nice if Amtrak had consistent roll-on service on their trains, like most trains in Europe do. They also should look at the usage of the existing roll-on spaces in their baggage cars, which tend to be half- or 3/4-empty anyhow, yet you often have to book far in advance to get a bicycle spot. A few more hooks for bikes would be easy to install, and when they aren’t used, they wouldn’t take up any space.

        I think once they realize that cyclists are a desirable demographic, who travel by train out of conviction rather than because they shopped for the least expensive price at the last minute, they will do more to accommodate cyclists. Unfortunately, many still see us as people too poor to afford a car, but that is changing quickly.

    • bgobie says:

      Some Amtrak stations allow you roll bikes on and off the trains, but many require bikes to be boxed. Amtrak sells very large bike boxes that the majority of bikes roll right into after turning the bars. If your bike differs from the norm you might have some trouble. Compounding that, sometimes there is only a short time to box the bike: Returning from the 1000k to Klamath Falls, we had 30 minutes between the station opening and train departing to stand in line with all the other passengers, buy boxes, and pack the bikes. I knew my bike was at the limit for the boxes’ length so I was prepared to take it apart if necessary. Another rider got caught by the height of his very tall bike and had a few panicky moments struggling to remove the stem.

      I think in Japan it is common to ride into the country and return on the train. Cyclists carry “rinko” bags for taking their bikes aboard trains. The bags are very light, meant just to protect the train and passengers from bikes, and typically pack into a bottle cage.

      • Much of it depends on the equipment of the train. The big “Superliners” that run cross-country don’t have bike hooks in their baggage cars, so the bikes need to be boxed. The Cascades that runs from Vancouver BC to Seattle, Portland and, I believe, to Eugene, has bike hooks in the baggage cars, so you can just roll up your bike to the car and hand it to the attendant. The number of spots (hooks) is limited, so make sure you reserve.

  6. Hugh Smitham says:

    Thanks Jan for sharing your experiences on a great ride.

  7. Ty says:

    I really enjoy this (and many other) blog posts. The blog is a great complement to BQ and keeps me going between issues. Thank you.

  8. Conrad says:

    Sounds like a fun ride! I don’t mind riding in the snow and I’m not a fan of road salt- especially when it seizes up your drivetrain the next day. My front derailleur is a bit stiff after the small amount of snow (and huge amount of salt) we had here this weekend.

  9. Kevan Rutledge says:

    Thanks for the ride report. Are those HED 650b rims that I see?

  10. Lynne says:

    Love that gas station at Galvin! Of course, I have only ridden by it without snow :-)

  11. archergal says:

    Down here in Georgia we rarely deal with snow. But I experienced the same problem with snow under fenders 2 wks ago during one of our rare snowstorms. It started snowing 4 miles into the 18 miles I had to travel. When I walked the bike over some soft snow in one spot, my front tire actually did lock up. I was very glad to discover that when I was not ON the bike.

    My solution was to bounce the front wheel (and occasionally the rear wheel) whenever I stopped, in hopes of dislodging the snow & ice. I had to go very slow anyway, because my rims were freezing and my brakes weren’t very effective. But I made it home safely!

  12. Tim Bird says:

    I really enjoyed your winter adventure Jan and I think the train is also a great way of extending one’s cycling range. I use it more and more. Here in Settle, Yorkshire, the Settle-Carlisle line does a very economical winter deal (up to the end of March) on day returns for residents of the Dales. Heck, the possibilities are endless but sadly, for the time being, so is the rain, snow and wind! However, if there’s a window in the weather and I can get the day off work – then I’m away. It’s possible to reach Hadrian’s Wall and the Scots border, explore a while and be home again for a late tea. That’s livin’!

  13. David Pearce says:

    Wow. That really is a great pictorial story, and I have to say again, I love you guys! It must make your heart swell with pride, and I love it!

    I hate to go from a compliment right into the weeds, but I wonder if the whole “clearance” thing about fenders ought to deal with tighter clearance, not more.

    Two examples, one real, one hypothesized:

    On my mountain-bike, I found I had incorrectly reinstalled the machined aluminum chainring mud clearer on the underside of the right chainstay. I was experiencing chain-suck, if that’s the right word, the chain jamming between smallest chainring and the mud-clearer. I kept on adjusting the mud-clearer for MORE clearance between the chainring, and still suffered from jamming chain between it and the small chainring. Then I had the idea, what about LESS clearance? So I adjusted the mud-guard for a tight clearance, to completely preclude the chain from entering that narrow area, and, voila, no more chain-suck problem, and I have to believe my adjustment for tighter clearance was the answer.

    Now, on to fenders. Interesting that your fenders filled up with slushy snow, and then you had the conversation with Peter White. Snow is not the main thing anyway, but solid debris causing a jamming accident and personal injury. I’ve been wondering about fender clearance, and especially with regard to the mud flaps I want to install. Naturally, I want to install the mudflaps INSIDE the fenders, as you suggest, and the fine constructeurs did, but then all of a sudden I got a sad face when I wondered, wait a minute, would rubber, flexible and resilient, right at the mouth of the fender and on the inside, tend to make debris MORE more likely to get jammed there because rubber is given to compression, or not? Frankly, I’m getting to be of a mind for tighter clearances, to preclude any debris the ability to get in between the fender and the tire.

    Your thoughts?

    • We’ve thought about this a lot, and all the fender accidents we’ve seen occurred on bikes with relatively close clearances. It appears that only small objects can be accelerated fast enough to hit the fender edge with enough force to crumble the fender. Fender clearance should be large enough that these objects can go through the fender without harm. Obviously, you want good fender lines, without tight spots where these objects might get stuck.

      Larger objects cannot accelerate enough (too much inertia) to do great harm. If you have a stiff fender, they’ll hit the fender and then bounce off. At least that is the current hypothesis.

      Regarding the snow clogging the fenders, our snow was very sticky. My fenders were fine at first, but as it got even warmer (37°F), the snow became so sticky that it even clogged up my son’s fenderless bike.

  14. mimi boothby says:

    I loved your trip report. Donald had such a great time riding with our sons, I am glad you are doing the same. In the snow no less!

  15. John Titus says:

    I also have the rear of the front fender closest to the tire. I have a huge leather mud flap fastened on the outside of the fender. the snow builds up on the mud flap ( a lot ), but the edge of the stainless steel fender is exposed to break the build up of snow. it doesn’t look as cool as a mud flap inside the fender but I think it works better in snow.

  16. Joseph E says:

    Re; Amtrak:
    Although almost all inter-city trains are Amtrak-branded in the USA, there are 2 different types.

    Amtrak directly runs and pays for the long-distance trains which run across the country thru multiple states, and the train on the busy Northeast corridor from Washington to Boston thru NYC. These trains are all not very bike friendly. You can bring a folding bike, but sometimes Amtrak’s staff will not know this policy. Standard bikes have to be put in a box, which requires some disassembly, and at some stations can be a big pain or impossible.

    Corridor trains are services within one state or between only 2 states, for example, the Cascades train that Jan used, which runs in Oregon and Washington. These trains are subsidized (if needed) by the States (not the national Amtrak budget) and the States decide on bike access. On the West Coast, this means the Corridor trains are much more bike friendly: You can pay $5 and roll your bike onto the State-run trains in Oregon, Washington and California, and you can often take a bike on the locally-funded buses that connect to the trains in these states.

    As Jan noticed, even the Corridor trains suffer from institutional inertia, such as lining people up in the lobby to board a train all at once at major stations, instead of allowing people to go out to the platform in advance.

  17. Mark Schneider says:

    The rides you do with your son will be memories you cherish. I still remember the first long ride I did with my son. We both ended up soaked to the bone and exhausted, but we loved every minute. Thanks for all your great posts.

  18. Josh says:

    For reasons I can’t explain, rather than taking the bus, I elected to ride home in the falling snow on Saturday night, from the east side to Seattle proper. By the time I got to Lake Washington Blvd., my wheels were nearly immovable due to the accumulation of snow in the fenders. I had to stop and shake them out more than once. I made it home otherwise without incident, but it took me nearly an hour and a half to ride just 14 miles.

    Anyway, good ride you have there. The weather is otherwise pleasant and certainly for me preferable to the Midwest, but the one thing I miss more than anything is snow riding, especially when the whole city shuts down.

  19. David Feldman says:

    Jan, you have one very lucky son! Looks like you had a great winter trip that you will both remember for decades. My wife and I have had a number of Amtrak-supported bike adventures; they have made it easier over the years to take a bike on the train and the Cascades run is almost civilized.

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