Winter Aches: Frozen Brakes, Crosswalk Lakes, Saved by a Folding Bike Make

Happy February! As national black-history month kicks off, Massachusetts is experiencing one of the whitest winters in history, and for us winter-riders, that means we should be just as proud to be pedaling through this weather as those who are celebrating their African-American heritage.

This morning as I hopped onto my bike to get to work, I almost started riding when I realized that not only was it snow covered, but that everything on my bike was frozen solid.

and not just my grips, seat, and beloved percussion instruments, but also my precious (and necessary for stopping) brakes. It seems water from the light rain had seeped into my brake lines and froze them solid so that I couldn’t squeeze them, not even a little. No problem! I thought, I’ll just use my other bike, which I had also left outside, but the brakes on that bike were also frozen. Whoops. I forgot that this could happen, and it hadn’t been a problem all season, not even yesterday, when my normal 15-minute commute was a 40-minute wrestle with traffic and unplowed snow:

For a brief moment, I panicked, and thought I might have to take the T, or even walk *gasp!* two miles work. But then I remembered my roommate Travis, who was working from home today, might be able to lend me his bike, a Dahon Folding Bike that he kept inside (whose brakes weren’t frozen solid). So with his gracious permission, I was back out on the road, on a bike *whew!*:

And like a butterfly from its cocoon,

VoilĂ !
Today, my cockpit looked very different than usual:

But riding it felt like riding any other bike, which is always a pleasure. One thing was surely different, though. Dressing in full winter attire, including ski goggles, and riding on a bike that looks like it was make for a clown did draw some surprised looks and one “whoa! nice bike!” on my commute in.

The first winter I started biking in Boston, not only was I thrilled to be able to go faster than any pedestrian could, but I was also thrilled to now have the ability to bypass perhaps one of the most dreaded but inevitable problems of a melting winter, such as the the “crosswalk lake,” like this small one in Harvard Square

where large piles of snow conveniently melt into murky puddles in every sunken crosswalk, making everyone experts in walking around them, or those equipped with waterproof boots experts in wading through them.

Fortunately, riding a bicycle through any puddle is really no sweat since your wheels are what get submersed, and not your feet. Fenders keep the splash away from your feet and make all the difference.

Finally making it into work, I was really impressed by how well the Dahon folding bike handled all the puddles and slush on the road. As it turns out, this particular model, the “Vitesse D7HG” is part of their “Urban Utility” bikes, sporting full-front and rear fenders, a 7-speed internal rear hub, and even a plastic all around chain-guard, meaning this bike does a good job of saving me from wet-splash, but also the entire drive-train.

Although as you can see, even though the internal hub is safe, slush did get all over the chain anyway.

Two lessons re-learned/reminded of:

  • Don’t leave my bike out when it rains and it’s cold enough for the rain to freeze, or my brakes will freeze and be rendered useless
  • I really want a folding bike. This internal-geared folding bike sure was nice to ride in this weather, since the drive-train doesn’t pick up half the muck my derailuer drive-train does, and being able to fold it up and store it inside easily is super convenient.

At last week’s Boston Bikes Report, I ran into Westwood Biker, who just installed studded tires on his Xootr folding bike, making it a portable folding winter riding machine. He’s currently considering selling all his bikes and going folding-bike only, since his folding bike is just as fast as his hybrid but makes life much easier by easy folding and indoor-storage (Not having to worry about having his bike or all its components being stolen while leaving it outside is a BIG plus).

Now that I’ve ridden a folding bike and realized its merits, I sit here wondering how much easier life would be with a folding bike, especially in weather like this. Or, how much more epic life would be long-distance touring on one, given a system where I could pack one up into a suitcase and bring it with me anywhere I go, and then convert that suitcase into fully functional bike-trailer when I got there:

Needless to say, I’ll have to give my roommate back his folding bike, and until I can justify the cost of a new bike, my longing to own a folding bike will just have to wait.

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One Response to Winter Aches: Frozen Brakes, Crosswalk Lakes, Saved by a Folding Bike Make

  1. Pingback: Amtrak, a folding bike, and a trip from Boston to Baltimore | theHumble Cyclist

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