Snow, Ice, Slush: Minn. Bike Commuters Refuse to Skid Off the Roads
Some people won't even drive in this snowy weather, much less bike in it.
But then there are the cyclists who simply thrive when the roads turn to ice or slush or somewhere in between.
The organization Bike Walk Twin Cities estimates that 20 percent of regular cyclists will use their bikes even on the worst weather days of the year.
Marty Mathis of Edina is a perfect example. For more than a decade, Mathis has biked from his home to the clothing store that bears his name (Marty Mathis Custom Clothiers) in downtown Minneapolis. It's a nine-mile ride.
"I do it because I can," Mathis says.
In the winter it takes him about 45 minutes. He makes the trek at least three times a week. "It's a lot easier than people, think, " he says.
For better traction, his bike is equipped "with tires that have studs coming out of them." But that doesn't mean there aren't problems. "I've fallen many times," Mathis says. "Five times this season. I'm 52 years old. I don't like falling. It hurts."
But he keeps on pedaling. "I'm a guy," he says. "You do guy things."
Inside Freewheel Bike, a store on South 6th Street in Minneapolis, Natalia Mendez lives what she sells. "These are a real game changer," she says, pulling a new pair of winter biking boots out of a box. She's wearing a similar pair. "There are cleats on the bottom of my shoes," she says. She also demonstrates "Pogies," a kind of glove/coat hybrid that wraps around a bike's handlebars. Users slip their hands in underneath to stay warm. Another big seller is "fat tire" bikes--thick, wide tires which have built-in suspension. Freewheel Bike says the winter biking products and accessories have helped increase sales as much as 20 percent this year, compared to the 2011-2012 season.
Mendez bikes to work every single day, rain or sleet or snow. She doesn't even own a car. "It will save you a lot of money in the long run if you aren't spending money on gas, insurance and parking--that's a killer," she says.
"I embrace winter here in Minneapolis, says Joshua Houdek. He completes a four-mile round trip commute to work at the Sierra Club, about four times a week. "I estimated I save almost $5,000 a year doing it," he says.
The Sierra Club is working to bring "cycle Tracks" to the Twin Cities--protected bike lanes that separate cars and bikes more safely, especially in the winter time. "In order to get more people riding," Houdek says, "a cycle track network is a proven way to do just that--to get the people who are used to riding on the trails on to the streets."
Because close calls with cars are always a fear, winter cyclists say they always have lights, wear plenty of protective gear, and make sure they're paying constant attention to their environment. "But you've got a lot of cushion from the snow," Houdek says. "So those falls aren't as bad they may seem."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org