The cyclist’s survival guide to clerkship commutingVolume 1: Winter

Posted on 26 January 2014 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

So congratulations, you decided to forego the car for clerkship and adopt the lean, green, quad strengthening machine that is the bicycle as your main mode of transportation for the 3rd year rotations. Take a moment and let that all sink in for a moment.

First of all, you got a bike. So get ready for a lot of questions of whether you are either a) stupid, b) insane, or c) Hipster. At least, that’s what the “regular” people will say about you. Get used to that. A lot.

But never mind that, because getting a bike to get around during clerkship is a GREAT idea. There are a ton of reasons that make it quite a sensible thing to do.

First of all, London isn’t that big. The distance between Victoria Hospital and University Hospital is around 10km along the bike trails, which translates to about 30mins at a moderate cycling pace. That’s about the same time it takes buses to get between the two, and that is WITHOUT traffic.

Secondly, it’s guaranteed exercise. Clerkship gets stressful, and that can through a real monkey wrench into one’s workout routine. However, by biking, you’re getting a section of dedicated cardio everyday (and it forces you  to do a leg day). That’s going to come in big when you feel guilty about indulging in those on-call and post-call meals.

Third, London is flat. While it’s not Prairie flat, it’s still horizontally-inclined enough that it’s not super daunting to a newbie cyclist. This was definitely one of the reasons I kept cycling up. The routes never seemed too arduous that they weren’t worth the effort.

That said, there is a huge valid reason against trying to cycle the whole year in London. That reason is Winter. Yes, winter sucks. It’s cold, makes the roads slippery and bumpy, and snow in the eyes sucks. Not only is this uncomfortable to bike though, it’s getting pretty unsafe. However, for the craziest (aka the honeybadger-ist) clerkship cyclists, there are ways to handle for winter.  What follows is a list of tips lifehacks on how to  make winter cycling much more enjoyable (and you don’t even need to get one of these to do it). 

1) Be prepared

Whenever I’m faced with solving any problem, I like to start with simple approach – ask myself “what would Batman do“. Usually this comes down to a two word statement: prep time. While you don’t need to go extreme as creating an alternate personality as the Cyclist of Zur-En-Arrh to be psychologically ready to handle winter cycling, be ready ahead of time to deal with the cold commute. This can be done simply through checking out weather reports, knowing which routes you plan to use ahead of time, and getting the right equipment ready.

2) Earlier the better

While most cycling commuters will already be used to leaving a bit earlier than drivers to make the trip, when the snow and ice hits, one has to be ready to take a bit more extra time on the journey. Riding through the snow is harder and slower than any other time of the year, as you can’t just power up hills, rip around corners, or zip down slopes. Plan in some extra time so you aren’t late and won’t feel rushed along the ride. The more time the better, as the worst thing that could happen is that you arrive early and can do some pre-rounding before morning report.

3) Suit Up! 

As both Barney Stinson and Japanese Macaques living in Russia know, being out in the snow requires a whole different set of gear. An important part of winter riding is keeping the core warm, yet managing sweat during the excursion. And like any good superbowl dip, the key is layering.  A base, moisture wicking layer, then an insulating mid-layer, topped by windstopping and waterproof outer shell is a classic trio (another classic trio: salt, pepper, and cumin). Protecting your feet and legs from soak and cold is equally important, because unlike Magikarp, the splash of slush from your wheels and cars is supereffective at getting you cold. Thermal long johns, insulating socks, snow pants, and waterproof boot covers are all good options.

Finally, pay special attention to your hands and your head, as they are both very vulnerable to the freezing temperature. Insulated leather gloves, mittens, or lobster claw styled gloves are all good options for keeping the hands warm and dry. As for your head, ear covers, neckwarmers, and toques make up the essentials of my winter kit. The key is to keep exposed skin to a minimum.

Oh, and if this sounds like a lot of extra gear to be bringing, a spare change of clothes (including dress shoes) can easily fit into a medium-sized pannier.

4) Eat breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially so if you’re going to be pedalling hard through the powder. You’ll be burning off more calories in these trips, after all. Being hungry while making the commute will just lead to an unenjoyable bike ride, and an irritated mood before you even before your shift begins. So start the day right by being properly fueled for the road.

 

5) Get your tires snow ready. 

Like cars, bikes have winter tires.They are pretty much like a normal tire, only bigger and awesomer. Oh, and they often have embedded studs to help grip into snow and ice. This can prevent you slipping on a patch of black ice, which can be really dangerous. If you want to forgo winter tires, getting chains for your normal tires is the next piece of advice. Additionally, letting out some of the air pressure in the tires helps increase the gripping surface area. Cycling without studs or chains is a risky move, even riskier than hitting on a hard 17.

6) Cars will try to kill you

Okay, so this might be a bit of a broad overstatement. While there are dangerous drivers who wish nothing but malice towards cyclists, the danger posed from an average motorist is that they simply aren’t expecting cyclists to be on the roads when the weather gets snowy. Adding to the problem is that cars won’t be able to stop as quickly in the snow and slush either, they can slip and spin out too, and drivers also will have worse visibility in the snow. On top of all that, the road shoulders are often more clogged than an artherosclerotic artery with packs of plowed ice/snow, forcing you to cycle closer to the middle of the lane, which is a real zone of danger for cyclists in busy traffic. In the winter you need to ride defensively (make eye contact with drivers), assert lane control (which are part of a biker’s rights), be on the look out for cars, and do whatever they can to improve being visible (adding reflective gear and using high lumen lights).

7) Clean and cold

As the snow and ice pile on, so does the salt. This salt, along with a bunch of debris, gets tracked into your gears and chains with all the slush. Without proper care, these can damage and wear down your ride. Make sure to wash off the salt daily by running some hot water along the chain and gears when you get back home. Additionally, storing your bicycle in a cold and dry location is advisable as a warm bike in snow can lead to ice forming on the gears and brakes. Finally, frequent lubing of your chain and gear will help keep the ride operating smoothly.

8) Know when to call it in

Somedays you’re James “Bucky” Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, and some days you’re Napoleon after Russia, aka Winter’s Bitch. Because that’s what being in the middle of the “Snow Belt” means, and there’s nothing you can do except this. So when it’s like Jötunheimr  outside and the mercury’s lower than Kramer’s sperm count, it’s advisable to look for other options, such as carpooling or taking public transit. To prepare for the scenario where you’re already on the road and a polar vortex hits, it’s advisable to plan for “bail out” zones, such as bus stops. LTC buses come equipped with racks that can accommodate bikes should the commute prove too long/laborious/treacherous.

Well there you have it. Winter cycling is a bit of a challenge, but nothing that should dissaude an adventurous heart. Keep at it and soon you’ll be reaching cycling in the snow like Calvin’s dad.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Jimmy Yan Says:

    An addendum video guide can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEhySzO14ik