Winter Biking Inspiration

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"Will people on this side of town ride their bikes this winter?" I wondered.

Bicycle retailing is an emotional business. Two short months ago, the line at our counter was several layers thick. Today, hours go by before anyone enters the store. Is it the weather, the price of gas, the mindset?

Rationally speaking, we know from a quarter century (wow, that's a freakin' long time) of experience, that a few people will continue to use their bikes without regard for the weather, and even in spite of it. Gas? They don't use it. Never have.

But if you're like most people in these latitudes, you will seriously consider the weather before venturing out on your bike in winder. If you decide to try it -- even just once in a while -- we've got some tips to help you along the way.

  • Why ride in winter in the first place?  10 Great Reasons, copied from RocBike of Rochester, NY, vintage 2007.
    • Thinking about switching from car to bike as your commuter machine, but holding off until Spring before you do it? Here are ten good reasons to make the switch this season:

      No need to brush/scrape your windows
      Unless your car is perpetually stored in garages, one of the worst parts of winter driving is frequent window brushing and scraping. Some motorists cut corners on this important step and dangerously operate at reduced visibility. A bike’s complete lack of windows makes visibility a non-issue.
      You can skip shoveling the driveway
      Unless you’re expecting company, there’s little need to shovel, blow, or plow the driveway if your bike is your mode of transportation. Spend that time you saved in the morning reading the paper, or in the evening cozied up by the fire.
      Bikes never get stuck in the snow
      Digging your car out of its on-street parking or making it over that hard packed snow at the end of your driveway can build character, but why bother when you can ride a vehicle that you can walk or carry if the going gets tough?
      Biking: a low-cost winter sport
      Cars can get you out to remote mountains so you can pay to strap fiberglass to your feet and fall down them. But what if you could avoid the price of lift tickets and season passes and still get your fill of quickly moving past snow-covered stuff? While you make your way to work? Bikes can help you with that.
      Pumping gas is a bad excuse to stand still in the cold
      Have you ever filled your tank with less gas than you usually would, just to get out of the cold? Bikes don’t have gas tanks, and the time you spend outside is time when you’re active and generating more than enough heat to stay comfortable.
      Avoid “Winter Weight Gain“
      You are a beautiful person no matter how much you weigh, but excess weight can lead to chronic health problems and lower activity in the winter can also contribute to “seasonal affective disorder.” Ride a bike to help avoid these winter problems.
      Studded tires rock
      Studded car tires are popular in Scandinavia, but in the U.S. they’re often illegal due to the road damage they cause. Studded bike tires are unregulated and easy to come by in regions with snow and ice. I’m pretty sure a bike with studded tires is one of the best things imaginable for handling icy roads.
      Losing control of a bike is a bit less scary than losing control of a car
      Drive or ride around after a big snowstorm and you’ll see cars in ditches, left abandoned after their operators lose control. You can’t just bail when your 2 ton cage hits some ice and starts recklessly sliding about. While it’s not always fun to bail from a bike, it’s certainly much easier, and both bike and operator often come out fine in the end.
      Bikes are easier to maintain
      Winter can be a real disaster to cars. Combine repeated freezing/heating of the vehicle with road salt and other melt chemicals — it’s easy to understand why cars in colder climates depreciate faster. Bikes basically just require a quick rinse after the ride an an occasional deep clean and oil change (on your chain) to keep in good working order.
      Bikes let you enjoy the season
      Winter is beautiful. Why experience it through fogged up windows with the radio blaring when you can be out in the middle of it all? There is a lot to enjoy: the invigorating cold air entering your lungs, the sights of your town blanketed in white, the satisfying sound of your bike crunching snow. Winter is often ignored because people are too cold and depressed to pay attention. Biking gets you out there and keeps your blood flowing.
  • Think it's cold here? Here's a kick in the butt for you.
  • Some winter riding essentials.
  • What would your mother say? Advice on keeping warm. And some more.
  • A story about winter riding hazards, and some other things (like tires).
  • Tips on how to keep your bike in good shape this winter.
  • If you're gonna ride your bike in Chicago this winter, you'll need service. This is it.
Justyna Frank