Riding a bike to work in the winter is a remarkable thing…as in people go out of their way to remark on it.

“Did you ride today?!!”
“Is it cold enough for you?”
“You are insane and you frighten me.”

I’ve written before about the joys of riding in winter, but I’ve changed my mind (and my vocabulary) regarding one of the central aspects of winter: snow.

snowtweetI used to ride in any weather.

This winter, I’ve given up riding in rim deep snow, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because it made my bike so very filthy. Snow sticks to everything and when it melts, every surface is coated in grit and salt. After a commute like the one above, I would have to wash my bike (in the winter) and oil the drive chain to keep it all working. And the grit caused a ridiculous amount of wear and tear on the wheels, chain, sprockets, and brakes.

While I don’t miss the filthy bike, I miss the actual snow. It added a delightful sense experience to my commute; delightful because of the variability.

I’ve heard that the Inuit have 14 different words for snow. I understand why—I’ve noticed seven different forms of snow that have distinct impacts on me as a rider. Only two of them—snow and slush—already have names, leaving five entire precipitation experiences unnamed.

Because an unnamed experience is harder to process, I have developed a snowcabulary over the last 11 winters:

Snist: A light, almost imperceptible snow, so light that it scarcely seems to fall. This is delightful to ride in because it doesn’t stick and gives everything a kind of shimmer—especially when riding after dark under halogen or LED lights. You do have to watch out for slick spots, however.

Snard: Fine, sharp crystals that sting when blown by the wind. I have to say that I’m not wild about this one.

Snall: Very small flakes that are large enough to fall and large enough to stick to clothing. This is nice because it is so pretty and is generally dry. A long enough commute, however, this leads to snall drifts in your crotch and stomach area.

Snow: Moderate size flakes that accumulate. This is what I think of a snow, and it’s the stuff that sticks.

Snellet: Granular snow that resembles hail but is light and tends to pile in drifts. Contrary to it’s looks, snellet doesn’t hurt as you ride through it, but you might find piles of the stuff in the vents of your helmet.

Snarge: Enormous, clumpy flakes. I love to walk in snarge, but don’t really like riding in it because of the high water content and because it feels like you are getting hit by hundreds of snowballs every minute.

Snirt: Old snow on the ground that has gotten dirty and generally black. Snirt is just depressing and also deceptive. Try to avoid it because it’s hard to tell what is under it and where it starts and pavement ends.

My winter commute is truly remarkable, and with a solid snowcabulary, I have the words to remark on it.

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