Ready to suit up and be counted?
Real winter is finally here, let’s get out there and enjoy it.
I love to ride a bike. I don’t love driving a car. Naturally, those preferences led me to become a bike commuter, and increasingly so over the years. I’m now more into the habit of grabbing my helmet instead of the car keys. At times, that meant slogging it out through the wettest Seattle hill climbs, the sauna-like afternoons in Thailand, or, now, the snowy trails and streets of Traverse City.
I don’t recall ever wishing I was in a car. The reasons are myriad. For one, I like letting my mind wander while I pedal. I like breathing steady under my own effort. I like seeing things and chatting with people. I also like changing the oil and buying gas less frequently. More than anything, I still really enjoy riding my bike.
Working at home this winter has cut down on my commuting time, but I still make an effort to get out and ride. I know many of you share my affinity for winter bike riding, and I invite those who haven’t quite embraced it to give it a try. Maybe it will become a habit.
Winter Bike Commuting isn’t complicated, but it has a few challenges you won’t find during the rest of the year. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Drive and ride. I recognize the value of a motorized lift, and in the winter, I usually load my bike onto a car to drive to the TART Trail. This move is for safety as my commute includes Three Mile Road. Someday we’ll see a safer connection from East Bay into Traverse City, but for now, I’ll choose to be multimodal rather than white-knuckling it down Three Mile.
- Dress in layers. It’s freezing out there, but with the right clothing, you’ll be toasty inside. I’ve found wearing a base layer made from wool, coupled with a windbreaker, my $5 Norte Buff, and a thin hat under my helmet takes care of my core. Roomy, thick mittens give me enough dexterity to shift and brake, but I will add pogies (handlebar pockets) when it gets frigid since my hands are historically cold. For the winter, I swap out the clip–in shoes for flat platform pedals and hiking boots with heavy socks for my feet—partially for warmth but also for quickly putting my foot down.
- Watch the ice. It is not to be taken lightly. Riding bikes with wider tires and slightly dropping the tire pressure will help improve traction. If you can afford them, studded tires are excellent for providing traction in the snow and ice. Hugging studded mountain bike tires is exactly like hugging a cactus, but that’s what I’d like to do every time they save my bum because they mean that much to me. They cost a little extra and are worth every penny.
- Plan ahead. The winter bike commute is slower. You can’t expect to make up time by pushing harder. If it isn’t the conditions slowing you down, it’s the 15 extra pounds of clothing and studded tires. You can also blame the extra effort on the air density, which I fully intend to do next time someone asks. Our friends at Ice Bike ran the numbers on this very topic: This Is Why You Are Cycling Slower in the Winter.
If you’re a winter bike commuter, consider committing to ride this Friday for World Winter Bike to Work Day. If you’re not a regular winter bike rider, consider giving it a try. Commit to ride by entering your location at WinterBiketoWork.org and put northern Michigan on the map. The more people who embrace winter biking (and walking), the more normal it will become.
Whatever your reason for riding through the winter is, thanks for sticking with it. I’ll see you out there.
Ben, Program Director