Winter Bike Commuting

All I can say is, wow, there sure has been a lot of things happening. I was at work and blissfully unaware about the Capitol insurrection on January 6th. I was having a busy day and floating on the happiness of the election outcome in Georgia until my boss walked by around 2:30 in the afternoon and mentioned what was happening. Then I lost all my ability to focus on anything else. 

There has been plenty of commentary from people better at it than I am and I am going to assume you have been reading all of it too. The only thing I will do is direct your attention to a fantastic podcast called Scene on Radio. Of particular interest right now is their 2020 season The Land That Never Has Been Yet about democracy in America. And after you listen to that season, check out their previous seasons, Seeing White (an examination race and whiteness in America), and Men (about the patriarchy and toxic masculinity). All three of these seasons have much to say about what happened on the 6th.

It’s been less than a month since I posted my list of evolutions for the year and things are going along pretty well. One of them, as you might recall, is to drive less, specifically to drive less than 3,000 miles over the course of the year. I am not the one who drives the car, so I probably should have talked to James about it first. But he is completely onboard. After I kept pestering him for several days to let me know what the car odometer is at so we can keep track, he finally gave it to me and then I promptly lost it! So now I have to pester him again and try to not lose it when he remembers to give me the number. 

Nonetheless, we have made a great effort to not make unnecessary car trips and to combine errands into a single outing. And James is planning on riding his e-bike to work at least once or twice a week when winter is over.

As for me, I have been bike commuting to work every day since July when I stopped working from home and went back in to work at the library. Rain or shine, hot or cold, sleet or snow. Though when the forecast is for 5 or more inches of snow, my boss allows me to work from home. Even with the studded tires, when the snow begins to get deep, biking through it becomes near impossible since the pedals get stuck in it on the downstroke and snow and ice freeze to my chain and derailleur.

I record my commutes on Strava and try to make my rides and ride titles fun by paying attention and noticing the weird things that show up in bike lanes, or the funny things people do at bus stops (lots of terrible singing!), or other strange and random things like the woman on the pedestrian/bike bridge the other day who seemed to be doing some sort of interpretative dance.

In spite of all the interesting sights and sounds though, sometimes a ride just 100% sucks. Like the day after we got 10 inches of snow and it took me well over an hour to bike the 7 1/2 miles to work. Or the drivers who purposely pass so close I could hit their car if I stuck out my elbow. They also tend to gun their engines when they pass to try and scare me, but I’ve become pretty unflappable to their tactics these days.

I have learned quite a bit about handling my bike on ice, snow, and slush, which will translate well to wet pavement, gravel roads and sand in the summer. I am also close to expert in the art of layering. Drivers are nicer in the morning than in the afternoon. And, if you look like a dork, they are also nicer. For instance, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I decorated my helmet with some silver tinsel I found in a closet. 

Demented reindeer

Someone told me I look like a demented reindeer. I got lots of strange looks, especially from the construction workers arriving to work at an intersection I pass through daily. I also got quite a few smiles and thumbs up and cheers from drivers, other cyclists, and pedestrians. So I call that a win. 

Because they salt the roads here, one does not ride a good bike in the winter. So I pulled my old, heavy, Specialized Crossroads out of the shed and got it tuned up and fitted with wide studded tires. I got waterproof panniers. And a friend of mine who is an Amazon affiliate found me some off-season deals on base layers. Sadly I had to go through Amazon for the clothing because in October when I was prepping everything, the local bike shops did not have winter clothes. Even the tires I bought at my bike shop were leftover from the previous winter. Since in the past I bike commuted until it snowed, I didn’t need much. Overall I spent less for four season cycling than an annual public transit pass cost me.

You might think that I am the only one, or one of only a few, cyclists out on the road this time of year, but this is not so. Minneapolis has a large contingent of winter cyclists and it is rare I don’t see at least two or three other people on the bikeways during my commute each day and evidence of many more from the tire trails through the snow.

I had originally decided to bike through the winter in order to avoid public transit during a pandemic. However, in spite of the occasional no good very bad ride, I’m enjoying it immensely and plan to continue even after the pandemic is officially over. 

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18 thoughts on “Winter Bike Commuting

  1. Your demented reindeer look is awesome! Do you find that drivers give you more space when you wear a helmet like that, or do they try to talk to you while riding? Your observations about driver behavior are interesting. I wonder if there are regional differences.

    1. Thanks AMB! I’ve gotten waves and smiles and one guy honked at me and gave me a thumbs up. Drivers don’t talk to me but other cyclists and people waiting for a bus have said complimentary things. Some drivers have given me more space but sadly not a significant number. I think drivers are nicer in the morning because it’s early–6:30–and so there are fewer of them and there hasn’t really been anything to made them stressed or grumpy yet. During afternoon rush hour though there are more drivers and everyone is in a hurry and grumpy after working all day. That’s my theory anyway!

  2. Love your helmet. There is a woman we pass on a few mornings while we are walking daily and she is biking daily and her helmet is decorated with a wild tussle of plastic sunflowers…which feels even more demented because it’s wintertime.

    I’ll check out those podcasts: thank you. And I’d add Code Switch and Still Processing (and, if you’re not already following, Trevor Noah on Comedy Central, for news plus humour, although much shorter coverage overall). I’ve already assumed that tomorrow there will not be any work getting done after 10am. But hopefully no repeat horrors.

    1. Thanks Marcie! Oh your local cyclist with the decorated helmet sounds like a kindred spirit!

      Thanks for the additional podcast suggestions! Trevor Noah is awesome! I am not a regular viewer, but do catch him every now and then.

      And the inauguration was amazing! Such a relief.

  3. Real cool bike! Here on the snow and icy trails and bike paths, I’ve seen people riding bikes with wider ‘Snow tires’. They look like some sort of wide with traction tire covering on top of the regular tires

    1. Thanks Arti! I suspect the people you have seen riding are on fat bikes. They were actually invented in Minnesota for winter trail riding in the snow. The tires are so big they are like the bicycle version of a tank.

  4. Like you, I was so busy at work on Jan. 6th that I had no idea what was going on until my mom told me about it and then I couldn’t stop watching the news. Just so horrible what’s been happening. Thank you for sharing the info on the podcast. Will be looking forward to that. And awesome decorated helmet! We just sold off one of our cars and are determined to be a one car family. Granted it’s very easy right now as we’re both working from home but I think once we eventually go back to work we can either alternate and/or my husband plans to ride his bike to work. You are awesome for braving the weather!

    1. I am really relieved Iliana that the FBI is arresting so many of the insurgents. Now let’s hope the juries at their trials hold them accountable. I hope you enjoy the podcast, they are really good. My helmet got some weird looks but mostly smiles. That’s really awesome you sold one of your cars! James and I have been a one-car house for years and sometimes it’s really hard or inconvenient but it is mostly great to not have to worry about a second car.

  5. The tinsel-decorated helmet is great! I’m impressed that you continue to bike through the snow and bad weather- and alongside discourteous drivers, which is what would unsettle me most should I undertake such a venture! I’m already nervous of other drivers when I’m in my car- being on a bike would make me feel rather vulnerable if I couldn’t use a bike lane or sidewalk I think.

    1. Thanks Jeane! If I can get my act together I am planning on knitting an elf hat to go over my helmet for next year 🙂 Drivers can definitely be unsettling and it has taken me a lot of time and practice to brave winter biking not because of the cold but because of the cars! I am lucky in that the middle half of my commute is on an off-street bike trail.

  6. Kudos to you for sticking with the with the biking despite the winter.

    It is awful that some car drivers can be so nasty and aggressive.

    I love your render decoration and I love your copilot.

  7. I love your reindeer look, scarfed duck, and what great lights on your wheels, I’ve never seen those before. I’m happy that there are some days when you are allowed to work from home. I was watching CNN when the insurgents invaded The Capitol and we’ve been glued to it a lot since then. No doubt it’s not so stressful at this distance though!

    1. Thanks Katrina! There is a whole world of bike wheel lights out there and some of them are super fancy with programed chips in them for a real rolling light show!

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