Taking on Winter – Tips for New Winter Cyclists

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By Jonah Freed

Totally hooked on bike commuting this summer, I welcomed the new challenge of taking on the Minnesota winter. So far it’s been well worth the effort—because a great ride, any time of year, helps me find balance between work and life. While the vehicles around me are jockeying with each other during the rush-hour hassle, I am cruising along, enjoying some of my favorite moments of the day. Nothing beats biking for relaxation, exercise, and helping the planet.

Minneapolis makes winter biking surprisingly doable, plowing more than 60 miles of trail after a snowfall. I’m proud to live in a city on the cutting edge of the cycling movement. Minneapolis develops and promotes bike lanes as a crucial step to combat climate change. 365 days of the year, bike advocates work to reshape and improve our built environment, while decreasing our dependency on cars.

This year, Minneapolis has the honor of hosting the first Winter Cycling Conference (WCC) in the United States.  The WCC is a three-day event that brings together people from around the world with the shared vision of increasing bicycling and walking for people of all ages and abilities during the winter. Today is the last day and I have already learned a lot about effective bike design, urban planning, and how landscape architecture can make our region an excellent environment for riders. There are seemingly endless options for current bike routes, and the possibilities for more bike lanes are growing.

If the first Winter Cycling Congress in the United States has inspired you to take pride in Minnesota’s winter cycling tradition, and you wish to try it out, here are some tips to make your ride as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Stay Warm

It is important to wear many layers, and to keep hands, head, and feet as warm as possible. When choosing hand protection, make sure you are able to brake easily. I like to wear a bandana to keep my face and neck warm. Proper eyewear is a must during days when low wind chills, snowfall, and wind make it hard to see clearly. 

Get “Bold Gear” For the Cold Year

Make sure to have the right type of bike. Fat tires are the safest option, because of their higher traction in snow, easy balance, and resiliency to the elements. In the summer, they are excellent for beach biking.  But if you like to utilize all green transportation options, then I suggest simply getting studded tires for your road or cross bikes. Bicycle racks on Metro Transit’s buses and trains do not accommodate fat tires. Studded tires are pretty safe, and provide a new level of tread to the ground. Make sure the chain moves as smooth as possible. The chain and gears should stay lubricated, so they don’t freeze.

 Control

 Always choose the safest route. A heightened awareness of cars should be second nature for winter bicyclists.  Try to ride smoothly and be ready to stop at all times to avoid spinouts. You will fall. If you fall, get back up and ride slow. Don’t do anything too wild!

Staying warm, and in control, is half the battle, the other half is being “cycle-ogical.” If you find this is not the winter for you, especially after this week’s storm, there is always next year. In the meantime, remember that Minneapolis has an awesome transit system.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.50.05 AM  Jonah Freed is a volunteer with the Land Use and Transportation Committee at the North Star Chapter.

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