You CAN bike in the winter

It’s not as hard as you think. A&E believes in you, and so does a local bike maven who is ready and eager to lend his advice.

by Thomas Q. Johnson

Winter is coming. The days grow darker, and the icy winds foretell the approaching age of cold feet and frostbitten cheeks, of long months trapped inside of buildings and the rolling tombs some call “cars.” Ye men and women who do not possesseth the proper physical and mental fortitude necessary to survive, take heed!

But, hark, what is this, a dissenting voice to the chorus of doomsayers?

“If you’re prepared for it, biking in the winter can be enjoyable,” Neil Linder, a sales associate at Varsity Bike & Transit in Dinkytown, dared to proclaim.

“A lot of it is about the psychological barrier of getting outside and doing stuff when the weather is bad,” Linder said. “Your first [winter] ride is going to be sketchy, even for experienced riders … but with the right preparation, anyone can do it.”

Lo! Here are four tips necessary to mount thy metal push-powered steed in the winter months whilst remaining comfortable and in possession of thine sack of gold coins.


Protect your extremities

It’s easier than changing gears to drop a ton of dough on winter outerwear from head to toe — that $55 Merino wool undershirt, the $130 moisture-wicking, reflective pants tailored exactly for bicycling. But generally, if you have a decent set of winter wear, your only special considerations should be your hands, toes and face.

“Spending money on good gloves and good socks will make a lot of difference,” Linder said.


Be visible

Winter is dark, and your regularly protected bike lanes are often filled with snow, so staying visible to passing cars is a must.

Minneapolis requires cyclists to use at least a reflector in the back and a white light in the front, but picking up an extra battery-powered red light and tricking yourself out in reflective tape is best. In headlights, you’ll glow like a Christmas tree.


Prep your ride

If you already ride a mountain bike around campus, you’re probably more than halfway to a decent winter bike already. Tire size and shape is the No. 1 factor in getting a good grip on the road. Like the guy says in that Pontiac commercial, “Wider is better.” Skinny road tires are a definite no-no when pedaling over snow and ice.

Studded tires, basically regular bike tires with a lattice of little metal studs costing around $40 a pop, are even better.

“You’ll definitely lose efficiency pushing them on clear ground,” Linder said. “[But] on ice, they can’t be beat.”

Fenders, which sit between the wheel and the frame to protect the rider from spray, are cheap necessities for a comfortable ride.


Prepare for the worst

Always have a way out of a situation. Your gears could break down, or it might be one of those blizzarding days when even walking down the sidewalk without toppling is a feat. Whether that’s carrying a baggie of quarters in bus fare or designating a friend on speed dial who can come bail you out, you’ll never regret keeping a “worst case” option in your back pocket.