3 Comments

Why I Bike in the Winter

Baffin boots and lobster gloves. I’m ready!

It snowed last week in Minneapolis – big, wet, not-quite-frozen flakes. It’s warmed up a bit since, but this is a good sign that the 70 degree days we experienced a week ago have headed south until April. Now I’m thinking about winter biking in more than just hypothetical terms – like actually switching out my slick tires for knobbies. But this post is not about gear – it’s about attitude.

When I told my family last year that I wanted to try winter biking, they were pretty skeptical. A lot of people seem to think it’s crazy, but invariably, those people have never tried it. Last year, I tried it.

There were reasons not to – among them is the fact that I have Raynaud’s, a medical condition that puts me at increased risk for frost-bite and is triggered by cold. I raised this concern to a housemate who biked year ‘round, and she said, “Yeah, me too. Just buy some nice gloves.” With her example, I scratched medical concerns off the list of viable excuses, which kept getting shorter.

After falling deeply in love with my bicycle over the summer, I started going through withdrawl-like symptoms as October eased into November and my bike sat on my porch more and more. Sitting in traffic makes me grumpy; watching other cyclists pedal at the same time makes me sad, even if it’s a bit icky out. Minnesotans are generally not the kind of people who let icky weather stop them (if we did, we’d sit at home for half the year). I consider myself to be a good Minnesotan.

I never really liked winter, though. In college, a snowboarder friend told me that I just had to find my winter sport. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and exercise and being outside are effective treatments for mild cases. Cross-country skiing is pretty popular here, but I’ve never gotten into it. Downhill skiing kind of scares me – it seems like every winter, a different celebrity dies in a skiing accident. I like sledding, but it’s generally not the kind of activity one cares to do after work on dark winter evenings.

Winter biking, however, was something that I was interested in because it carries all of the benefits of summer biking. It’s great exercise, it’s cheap, and it accomplishes two things at once: a workout and a commute or errand-running. When the snow flies, it also makes me feel like a bad-ass, which is an added bonus. I’m new enough to this game that I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I say to myself, “a little weather isn’t going to stop me!” and it doesn’t.

One of my best friends is the daughter of a polar explorer (not making this up). She grew up in Ely, Minnesota, and her dad likes to say that “You’re only cold if you dress cold.” I took it to heart, since this guy knows Ann Bancroft personally and has been dogsledding in the Arctic since before I was born. I set out to learn as much as I could about winter biking, reading lots of blog posts that often featured really enthusiastic guys with ultra-fat tire bikes and poagies. I pestered experienced riders with a plethora of questions, and got almost as many different answers.

Pogies

I don’t have my gear totally dialed-in, and this winter is almost guaranteed to have more snow than last. I’ll leave it to other people to discuss the finer points of clothing and component selection – if you missed Cycles for Change’s winter biking classes, there’s still time for the Grease Rag Clinic this Sunday or a Winter Bike Commuting Seminar  at Midwest Mountaineering on November 18.

I may not bike quite as much in the winter, but there’s no way I’m giving it up for the season. My mood, mental health, bank account, and waistline have too much at stake.

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3 comments on “Why I Bike in the Winter

  1. You’re going to love winter biking. You’ve already made a great decision with the lobster gloves. My pair of lobsters is the one piece of winter biking gear I absolutely couldn’t do without. Another thing that REALLY helps (and you may or may not find this tip helpful) is growing a full-face beard.

    Remember, it’s not the snow that will give you troubles, it’s the icy patches that develop on warmer days when ice melts then freezes again. I slip and crash on ice sheets at least 2 or 3 times each year (but haven’t permanently damaged myself yet!). Good luck out there.

  2. Love your blog! I am a year-round biker in Ottawa and ride 365 days a year. I also have mild Reynauds and can attest that keeping your hands, feet and FACE warm, makes a big difference to keeping your body warm! What people often forget tho is that when you’re biking, you’re moving so your body temperature goes up and your blood is circulating. All those people shivering outside waiting for the bus are just standing still. Brr.

    Anyhow, In terms of safety, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Schwalbe winter tires. They have small studs in them and are absolutely amazing in snow and ice. We had a pretty major ice storm last winter. Cars, busses and pedestrians were unable to move and I was able to get around town with absolutely no problem. They are pricey (at least in Canada) but a must for winter cyclists.

    Happy cycling.

    • Hi, and thanks for reading and the recommendation on the Schwalbe’s! I love hearing from year ’round bikers in other wintery locales.

      I have 45NRTH (local company here in Minnesota) studded tires on an old mountain bike I ride when it’s icy, and I agree that studs are pretty awesome. My tires are wide and slow, but they make the bike feel like an all-weather tank.

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