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The Green Life: Weathering the Storm on Two Wheels

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November 04, 2009

Weathering the Storm on Two Wheels

Bike_snow Sure, biking is easy when the sun is shining and the road is dry. And commuting by bike is fun—you show up to work feeling great, you get to skip morning traffic, and maybe you even lose a few pounds. But as the days get cooler and cold weather looms, you wonder if you can keep it up. You can. Here’s how.

It’s not all or nothing. Don’t think that just because you can’t bike every day or every week, you should give up on bike commuting altogether during winter. When a snowstorm hits, or you have extra responsibilities at home or work, taking off a few days is fine. No one’s judging you. Just remind yourself how much you love biking to work when things clear up, and then get back in the saddle. Remember, people bike in Minneapolis (in what locals call Minnesnowta) all year round!

Rain, rain. You wake up and it’s raining. Should you leave the bike at home? Not necessarily. Rain isn't a major problem for bikers, as anyone who's ever been to Portland, Oregon, knows. Just wear appropriate clothing (raincoat, rain pants, gloves) and give yourself a little extra time. Bike slower than usual since the roads are slick and your stopping power is reduced, and take the turns with caution. Paint on roads is slicker than the blacktop when wet, so stay away from paint when possible.

But it’s cold! The key to cold-weather riding is limiting the amount of exposed skin to the wind. Since you’re pedaling enough to generate heat, your core will stay warm. But your hands, knees, and head might get chilly. Wearing gloves, tights, and a wool hat under your helmet will keep you comfy. Dress in layers so you can adjust easily during your ride. There are cycling-specific clothing options, but you can also use your hiking wool and synthetics.

Today’s forecast: Snow. A little snow shouldn’t stop you from biking to work (but again, it’s not all or nothing -- if you aren't comfortable in snow, that’s cool, take the day off). Snow can be slick and is best met with thick, knobby mountain-bike tires. It can also hide black ice, so be careful – especially when on bridges, where ice forms first. Use a “beater” bike if you have one, and make sure to clean the muck off your gear to keep it functioning well.

Have a backup plan. It’s best not to be forced to bike if the weather turns in the middle of the day. Before winter hits, know alternate options such as which bus line or coworker can take you home. Leave your bike at work overnight if you need to. If you park it outside, make sure it’s secure and not sitting in a pool of rust-inducing water.

--Kyle Boelte

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