Launder and Press
“So, what do you do in the Winter?”
When I tell someone I work for a laundry delivery service that operates via bicycle, I receive a lot of different responses. One of the most common is the question, “What do you do in the Winter?”
The short answer: we do our job! Dirty laundry doesn’t care about the weather. So, how do we do it?
Safe Cycling in the Snow:
The ever-present dangers of being a cyclist in the city are amplified even more so in the Winter, so in addition to making myself as visible as possible, I take some (mostly) common sense precautions:
1. Watch Out for Ice
This kind of goes without saying, but it’s something that’s easier said than done. How do you spot an ice patch? It’s definitely an acquired skill. With ice, total avoidance is the best bet.
As often as possible, I avoid shaded streets where the sun doesn’t reach – they take the longest to melt, and in many cases, they are too narrow for a snow plow. I also try to avoid anything resembling standing water, which frequently collects in the curb cuts at crosswalks.
Slushy snow isn’t ideal, either. Try to avoid making any sharp turns or sudden maneuvres if you can’t avoid it.
2. Claim Your Lane
Unfortunately, bike lanes are often left un-plowed, meaning our preferred riding zones are not the most ideal for riding in Winter. In case you are unaware, Pennsylvania law states that cyclists are allowed to use a normal vehicle travel lane, and signs like the one you see here in Fishtown have gone up all over Philadelphia within the last few years to make motorists aware. I encourage you to use this to your advantage, as it is much safer to use a plowed lane than trying to navigate the often slushy or icy conditions that plague bike lanes in Winter.
It may be tough, but of course, try to be as courteous as possible. I’m not going to lie to you: you will encounter your share of horn-honkers and epithet yellers, but remember that your safety is just as important as theirs.
3. Plan Your Route
Try to stick to wide streets and avenues as often as possible, as they are almost always plowed and relatively maintained. I try to avoid narrow streets at all costs. As I mentioned above, snow plows often cannot fit through many of our streets, so the only option when taking these is to stay within the tire tracks left by cars, which is still very dangerous. I recommend walking your bike on the sidewalk instead and only riding on these as a last resort. Be sure to watch out for ice on the sidewalks, too.
Also, steer clear of trolley tracks if at all possible. It’s really easy to get a tire stuck in the groove, and they’re also exremely slippery when wet. I’ll only go on these types of streets if it’s absolutely necessary for a delivery.
4. Take Your Time
Again, something that goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: take it slow! Just like driving a car in the snow, your brakes and overall vehicle performance are compromised to some degree. Take your time, leave for your destination a little earlier if possible, and again, don’t feel pressured to rush because of honking or screaming motorists.
5. Avoid Distractions
Don’t try to do anything else while you’re cycling, including listening to headphones, texting, eating, drinking, etc. You’ll want to be as alert and capable as possible. Doing any of these things inhibits your ability to observe and react to obstacles and your environment.
Forgive the rant, but I see all of these happening more often than you might think, and it drives me absolutely bonkers. Listening to music, you can’t hear cars, pedestrians and other potential risks. I know riding with music is fun, but riding into the ER because you didn’t hear the bus turning next you isn’t fun. Riding with one hand on your handlebar and the other on your bagel/phone/coffee just isn’t safe. Pull over if someone calls you, eat before or after you ride, and get yourself a leak-proof thermos that you can keep in your bookbag or water bottle holder. Nothing is more important than your safety, and all of these things can wait or be avoided altogether.
Now that we’ve given you all of these Winter weather cycling tips, here’s hoping that Mother Nature is kind to us this year so you don’t have to use them! Happy trails to you, and thanks for reading.
In addition to writing this blog post, Steve is a Cycling Route Manager. He has been with Wash Cycle Laundry since October of 2014, and you can find him regularly wash cycling throughout our North Philadelphia region.