Bike Life: Are You Winter Biking with Matt?
Friday, February 14
Meet Matt Jones
Great Lakes Maritime Academy student, Matt Jones, travels from south of Hammond Rd. to the Great Lakes Academy for his bike commute. It’s one of the longer winter bike commutes you’re going to find, not to mention one of the more potentially harry routes. Matt does it with an unflappable grin and preparedness you’d expect from a coastie. We sat down with him to hear what brought him to Traverse City and about his attraction to winter biking.
Q: You’re relatively new to the area. What brings you to the Grand Traverse region? Where’d you move from?
I came to Traverse City in June of 2018 by means of utilizing my veterans’ educational benefits to attend Great Lakes Maritime Academy. I ended my active duty service in the Coast Guard that June in Coos Bay, Oregon and moved across the country for the third time. I am originally from a town south of San Diego, California where I spent the first 25 years of my life.
Q: San Diego to northern Michigan winters. That’s a big jump, no?
Yes, a leap indeed! Although I would say that as much as people think it’s cool that the weather is great all the time in SoCal, to me it can get kind of boring because with so many nice days out you tend to waste them. Here, however, you jump at the chance to enjoy a sunny 20-degree day. I genuinely love having four seasons and getting to experience them after growing up in pretty much a one season climate. I genuinely love shoveling snow in my shorts.
Q: What motivates you to be out here on the bike year-round? Do you bike mainly as part of your commute? What other times do you winter bike?
This is a great question. First, I would say if it was not for the advent of fat bikes I probably would have difficulty getting around on my bike in the winter. Second, commuting-wise, getting around on my bike has been an off and on thing I have done for over 10 years. When I joined the Coast Guard it became too burdensome at times – depending on the unit type and location to get to work (by bike). Still, I tried to when I could. Outside of my time spent in the military, sometimes it was by necessity and others like it is now – it is just a better use of my time. I have commuted by bike in five states all with different climates and unique challenges.
Lastly, aside from commuting via bike in the winter, I do try to hit up the VASA winter singletrack. As a side note, I had to tone down my urge to pedal the metal after I hit a tree in August this last year that laid me out for a minute. I road bike heavily, however, since the tree incident I sold my road bike to help my wife and I purchase a home in town. My fat bike is now my year-round go-to bike.
Q: How many years have you been out winter biking?
This is my second winter in Michigan biking. I’ve biked other winters in Oregon and California, but let’s be honest those winter commutes are a joke compared to riding here; a joke that most think I’m joking when I say I get around on my bike here in Michigan.
Q: Does the Maritime Academy have facilities you can use to store your bike? Change your clothes?
Yes to both. There is a bike rack here and if I had bike issues I could utilize an indoor shop space to remedy them. As for lockers, there are day-use lockers. I have unofficially commandeered one to keep my uniform items here at school. If I did not have to wear a uniform I would have no need for a locker, but these spaces, in general, are good to wipe the sweat off your brow. On the main campus of Northwestern Michigan College, I sit in class in my riding gear as I am not required to be in uniform there.
Q: By the looks of your rig, you’re certainly prepared. What’s different on your bike in the winter? What about your gear?
I appreciate your noticing my schwag. In the winter its more about what is on me than what is on my bike, however, I do make a few adjustments to my bike for the winter commute. Pertaining to my bike, fenders are a winter addition on my bike. The fenders do a half-decent job of protecting me from the resultant brine-slush that happens from melted snow and when the temperatures are just right after it snows to thaw. I somewhat loathe the commercially available fenders for fat bikes because they are 1) not aesthetic to one’s bike and 2) I still get that brine all over my back. I plan to custom fabricate something to provide better protection for me and my bike.
Aside from fenders, I lower my pressure in my tires to provide better traction. Other than that, my bike is set up as it would be in the summer. Good lights are an investment anyone who wants to commute on a bike should make for safety in low light conditions but especially in daylight because let’s be honest, the drivers are a little distracted out there.
Now on what I wear/use gear-wise for my bike, I recently just made a load adjustment with the new addition of a basket rack on my front fork. I did this because wearing a twenty-pound backpack for six miles takes it out of you real quick in the cooler temps. When I lived three miles from school it was not that big of a deal, but the long commute rapidly declines comfort if I still wore the heavy bag. Because of brine I mentioned, I use a water-resistant cover over my bag to protect it and then secure it in my basket.
Everyone is a bit different from the amount of heat they generate but for me all I wear most of the time it is a wicking layer and my softshell jacket. I wear triathlon shorts and long underwear, and then a pair of chinos of all things over that because they are stretchy. On my feet are a pair of insulated waterproof boots and gaiters. The gaiters have proven to be a favorite part of my gear because they protect my legs from the brine that gets thrown up by the bike. I have a few pair of gloves depending on the temperature outside, and the same for my head. I have a regular mountain bike helmet that I use most of the time and use a helmet-specific beanie, and on the cold brutal days I will bust out my snowboarding helmet for added warmth. I do wear goggles as needed but most of the time I go without eye-wear. Lastly, a good neck cowl is a cold-weather rider’s best friend.
Q: Any tips for Norte readers who might be interested?
Geez, where do I start? I would say winter biking isn’t as difficult as people might think. In my case, it can be a little dicey, but that is only because I live just outside of town. For those that live in town, the infrastructure is there to capitalize on being able to get around town. I have fallen on icy surfaces, but this has always been surprisingly in parking lots or not the main road. And speaking of ice, the colder icy-er days of winter are more desirable to me than those where it is just a briny slush-fest. You do not need bike specific gear to get out there. Because Traverse City has a vibrant culture of active people, in their closets right now they probably have 75% of the gear they need to be comfortable riding a bike in the winter.
Be defensive but not offensive on your bike. What I mean is, be nice on your bike and do not do anything to add to those drivers who already despise you being on the roadway. Be seen, be heard, and have fun! In my mind, this helps drivers and other roadway users respect those of us on a bike. I can tell you how considerate drivers are by how close they pass by me. Speaking to that I have had plenty of people pass me too close with their vehicle with bike racks on them, and each time still amazes me.
Q: Anything to add?
There is always something to add, but if anyone is interested in something I did not cover they can reach out to me and I would be happy to help as best I can.
For more winter bike tips: