Salted roads, seasoned riders

Enghave station (Dec. 3, 2010)

For the second winter in a row, we’re getting clobbered. It hasn’t been particularly cold, but there’s been plenty of snow, and every time it looks like it’s going to melt, we get a fresh layer.

This may sound bad, particularly considering that we don’t own a car, but in fact it’s great. It’s great because the two biggest problems with Danish winters are that they are wet and dark. Snow may be wet, but it’s not nearly as wet as rain.

Bella Hotel

And the sun may still sets at 4:00pm, the snow magnifies whatever light is available, from the sun in the day, and from streetlights at night. Snow definitely helps make winter less depressing. There are advantages to cyclists as well. For example, when is snows there are far fewer bikes on the bike lanes. Apparently a lot of people switch from bike to train, bus, or car.

But of course there are drawbacks. There may be more space on the bike lanes, but that extra space is often risky to use. Especially in the mornings, there is often a layer of ice beneath the snow.

The park (Dec. 2010)

This makes forging new tracks treacherous, so the best plan is to carefully follow in the tracks of previous riders. Typically the result is that there’s a single thin path in the middle of the bike path that’s relatively safe. That’s fine — until you encounter another rider. Then you have to choose between slowing down or passing. Passing is not fun, either for the passer or the passee. But so far I haven’t seen any accidents.

The park (Dec. 2010)

I haven’t seen anyone go down all winter long. This is probably the result of a combination of factors. One is that Danes learn to ride at a young age, and they get a lifetime of practice, both in good weather and bad. Another factor is that they use salt liberally on the streets and bike lanes. This shortens the lifespan of bike and car alike, but it is undeniably effective. It has to get well below freezing before a salted bike lane truly gets icy.

But there’s a third factor: Danes are patient. If the roads are bad, they slow down, and they do so before they slip and/or fall. I have trouble imagining Americans doing this. Americans are much more likely to test the limits — to try going fast first and only slow down after it’s been conclusively proven that it’s not safe to do so.

And on this I speak from experience. I tend to ignore all the obvious signs of slippery roads until I have a close call. Only then do I slow down.

Consider this link that my cousin Ed sent me. This is a good example of American problem solving. If the roads are slick, strap something to your tires to make them less likely to slip. Or buy tires with metal spikes. That’ll keep your from sliding around.  The Danish way of solving the same problem is… just slow down. Be careful. Don’t ride like an idiot.

But… while it may be smart to slow down, but it is also boring. Very boring. And that’s a problem. After all, if they weren’t so careful, I’d see all kinds of bike wrecks on my commute, and this blog entry would be a lot more interesting.

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