Winter Cycling

Before the first big snow storm, when the bike path was still somewhat easy to ride on

Before the first big snow storm, when the bike path was still somewhat easy to ride on

So many people have been shocked and maybe impressed that Dallas and I are riding our bikes through the winter.  At least once a day someone tells me, “I can’t believe you’re still riding in this!”  Well, to be honest, I would much rather ride my bike in this snow than drive a car.  Don’t get me wrong.  Cycling in the winter has its own drawbacks and discomforts, but I feel I have no right to complain about the choice I made not to have a car, even in the worst of winter conditions.  I have no regrets and am happier than ever to ride my bike instead of drive.  Here’s a few reasons why.

Riding in the snow can be peaceful and fun, before it gets salted and all serenity is destroyed by filthy traffic

Riding in the snow can be peaceful and fun, before it gets salted and all serenity is destroyed by filthy traffic

I am still getting outside and incorporating activity into my daily commute (and sometimes for fun as well, although we have both been heavier on the yoga and other indoor forms of exercise these past few months) – as long as I’m dressed appropriately, I feel much better than I would if I were sitting in a car (and in the crawling traffic jams that seem to be everywhere during snowy rush hours).  From the moment I step outside I am moving, keeping my body warm.  The snow adds a bit of a balance challenge, and the cars sliding around add a danger factor (how exciting).  I have to ride my bike differently in the winter, watching out for snow and ice and taking my turns cautiously.  I may have to change my course to avoid hills or roads that present hazards I would rather not deal with.  I have a little more trouble looking over my shoulder for cars because I have to turn half my body around to see beyond my hood, which I have pulled up over my helmet.  I adapt to these challenges, and I even enjoy them for a time.  I feel more confidence on my bike as I learn how to improve my balance on these challenging surfaces.

Embrace winter and have fun in the snow!

Embrace winter and have fun in the snow!

Driving a car in this weather actually seems like hell.  There is no room on the roads for cars to pass each other on many of the side streets, because the snow is stacked so high along the sides of the roads.  The sidewalks are so inconsistently cleared that pedestrians are forced to walk in the street, creating yet more obstacles for drivers.  Cyclists are forced to ride in the middle of the road, if there ever was a bike lane, because all the snow is in the parking lane and cars are parking in the bike lanes.  Where there are parked cars, they stick out, adding to the difficulty of navigation.  Why drive when you end up sitting in a line of traffic, catching the same red light for 3 or 4 (or more) cycles before you finally arrive at the intersection?  Why drive when there’s nowhere for you to park your car?  What are you supposed to do when you finally do arrive are your destination and there’s a parking ban because of the snow?  It’s more work to have a car in the winter than it is to bike, in my opinion.  If you’re not spending hours shoveling your car out of your driveway, you’re spending money for someone else to do it for you.  Unless you keep your car in a heated garage, you spend the first 10 minutes of your trip just sitting there freezing, waiting for the heat to kick in.

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Skiing in the park near our house – look at all that snow!

The one thing I could live without are cars.  And salt on the road.  I know the salt makes the roads less slippery, but it really destroys my bike.  If you are riding in the winter, make sure you clean off the salt to prevent corrosion on your bike.  It’s not an easy task.  If it weren’t for cars, the roads probably wouldn’t get salted.  I wouldn’t have to worry about them slipping on ice and sliding into me, or driving way too close because the roads are half as wide as they normally are.  I wouldn’t have to turn around so far to look behind me before making a left turn because there would be no cars to plow me down from behind.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present - before I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work. You can see form the photo that locking up a bike becomes a little...different, in the winter.

You can see from the photo that locking up a bike becomes a little…different, in the winter.

As I mentioned, cycling does have its own drawbacks and discomforts during the winter season.  But I believe they are far outweighed by the positives.  The worst part about winter cycling (besides having to watch out for scary cars) is that my body can never seem to distribute heat evenly.  My hands and feet and face are most vulnerable, while the rest of my body will be overheating.  Maybe I just haven’t figured out the right gear – and this changes daily depending on the outside conditions.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present - before, I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present – before, I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work.

My dad gave me a set of Bar Mitts for Christmas, which have been a lifesaver (or hand saver).  They keep the wind off my hands and I’m able to wear lighter gloves, but depending on the temperature, but hands will still freeze with heavy winter cycling gloves inside the Bar Mitts, or they will be sweating profusely along with the rest of my body, while my feet are still solid ice cubes.  This is a personal problem, and everyone needs to experiment with different layers in different conditions to determine what works for their own body.  I’m afraid I’m just doomed to have perpetually cold feet (even in the summer).  A face mask can help keep the cold wind off my face, but then my glasses usually fog up if I breathe.  These are problems I can deal with temporarily, but they do require that I bring a dry change of clothes with me wherever I’m going.  I still think it’s better than driving.  All that said, I am ready for winter to be over!

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About Sarah

Sarah grew up in Cranston - just south of Providence, Rhode Island - and developed a love for travel, music, and outdoor sports at an early age. She had started bicycling long distances at age 12, as a participant of the MS150 bike tours to raise money for the MS Society. She didn't use her bike regularly until she built her own while studying in Montreal and found it an excellent way to get around the city. After graduating from McGill and moving back to Providence, Sarah started working at Brown University's office of Environmental Health & Safety as the Biological Safety Specialist. She was living 4 miles away at the time, and for the first few weeks was driving to work. She made the switch from driving to bicycling when she realized that she could get to work faster, avoid parking tickets, and integrate a few miles of training into her day. Bicycling was better for the environment and better for her own health and mood. She found that she had more energy and felt much happier once she started biking to work. When her car broke down several months later, she never bothered replacing it. After 4 years of working in Biosafety (and on her master's in Environmental Studies), Sarah left her job to pursue her passion. She has been working various jobs in the bicycle industry since June of 2011, including pedicab driver, bicycle tour guide, bike mechanic and traveling bicycle advocate. In between seasonal jobs, she has done a few long-distance bike tours, which is the main reason for this blog. Her dream is to eventually ride around the world and sail across the oceans.

Posted on 25 February 2015, in Rhode Island, The space between and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. davidgoldenblog

    Hey Sarah! I’ve actually been thinking a lot reducing car usage. Have you always been car-less? If not, when did you make that transition? Do you have access to a car if you need one for something? I’d like to start relying on my car less and less, just need to put some upgrades into my old junker bike. Gears and good brakes are useful.

  2. I had a car until about a year after I graduated from university. I went to school in Montreal, and driving was more of a pain than anything else in a big city like that, so I really only used the car to get from Providence to Montreal when I was moving back and forth and visiting home for holidays. In the city I actually walked or rollerbladed everywhere until I built a bike from recycled parts at a co-op called Right to Move. From then I was hooked. I tried driving a bit when I moved back to Providence and got a job four miles away from home, but quickly realized that biking was less stressful and I never had to worry about parking (or tickets). When my car eventually broke down, I never got it fixed. I’ve saved so much money by not having a car, and now every time I do find myself in a situation where I have to drive I really feel uncomfortable. Driving creates so much stress, and I see that in my friends and family when they drive. If you want to transistion to not having a car, I’d suggest trying to bike wherever you need to go and keeping your car parked at home for as long as you can. Eventually you may find you use it so rarely that it’s not worth keeping it. I am thinking about signing up again for a zip car membership, only so I can drive to and from faraway bike and running races without having to rely on friends each time.

  3. davidgoldenblog

    I love this idea of being less dependent on a car. I got my bike in a similar way from an organization called RecycleBike and rebuilt it after stripping it. I probably didn’t put in as many working parts as I should have, so it’s only been in semi-working condition for the past couple years. I’m planning on stripping and rebuilding it again soon. I work only 5 miles from my house, and was riding to work a bunch in the fall, but I don’t know how you stay motivated in the winter. I can’t imagine how my hands, feet, and face would feel riding those 5 miles when it’s 2 degrees outside in the morning. I think wherever I end up next I will take your advice and begin a slow transition to biking- plus it will be warm!

  4. The cold is definitely demotivating. I made a personal commitment to stay active to avoid the usual winter depression, and I found I always feel better after riding outside, no matter how much I dreaded going out there before. I haven’t been able to make myself run as much this winter, but with my commute I am forced to get outside, and I’d rather bike than walk to minimize my time in the cold. My commute is about half the distance of yours right now, but I find that after two miles (or less if it’s hilly) I’m usually pretty comfortable. It’s when I stop that I start sweating and my glasses fog up. If it’s really cold sometimes the feet never warm up, but if you can get electric boots or foot warmers that would help.

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