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MayaMohan2 Posted by:
Maya Mohan, Department of Public Health

Maya is the Physical Activity Coordinator for DPH and is curious about winter bicycling… 

Yes, I said it.  Bicycling in the winter.  In New England.  It’s possible…. well, so I’ve heard.  This is something I haven’t ventured into yet myself, but one of my good friends out in Minnesota promises me that it’s not only possible, but actually enjoyable. 

My friend Amber is the Physical Activity Coordinator in MN… a state that can boast a longer winter season than us, so I figure who better to hear about winter bicycling from than her?  She has just started this new position, which is much closer to her home, and now has the opportunity to ride her bike to work regularly (and year-round).   As she was considering the decision to brave bicycling during the winter months, she realized she’d first have to fill some potholes (aka barriers). 

• TIME | With my new job, I now live about 3.5 miles from work. This is about a 20 minute bike ride. Taking the bus is about the same amount of time. If I drove to work, which would still be about 12 minutes, I would have to pay about $9 for parking. To pay less, I’d have to park further away, making the commute more than 20 minutes anyway.  Biking to my new job just makes more sense – I get to keep my flexibility in arrival and departure times, and it doesn’t take longer than driving or taking the bus.

• SWEAT | In warmer months breaking a sweat and not having easy access to a shower is enough to keep anyone from considering the active commute. However, I sweat when I’m just sitting around. I have come to accept this and hope that those around me just keep their distance. This further supports my required, Midwestern-roots personal space zone. The good news is when it’s colder I don’t sweat as much. The cooler weather actually makes me enjoy biking more because I get a rush of cool air!

• SAFE ROUTES | Having a lack of direct, safe routes to work can deter anyone from considering an active commute. In Minnesota there are a handful of resources that can help you find a safe route, including Bike2Benefits, Bike Walk Twin Cities, and Saint Paul Smart Trips. Fortunately, this is nothing I can complain about. I live half a mile from a marked, well-traveled bike route that brings me into downtown Saint Paul – this really is not a pothole for me.

• DARKNESS | Toward the end of November into mid-January, daylight is hard to come by here, especially if you work the day shift. This makes bicyclists difficult to see and it can be unsafe to bike to if you don’t have the proper equipment. Lights are required when it is dark out in Minnesota, so, it’s important to have a head and taillight. It’s also helpful to have a brightly, colored, reflective jacket. Just to be extra safe I have a headlamp (to go over my helmet) on my Festivous list this year.

• FREEZING TEMPS | As the temperature drops, riding a bike definitely seems less appealing. It’s important to make sure to wear the appropriate layers and pay special attention to your limbs, which are more likely to be affected by the cold. Generally speaking, my core has been quite warm (thus far). We’ll see how I handle the temps we see in January. I can’t say that I will be too deterred as I am constantly sweating (see “sweat” above).

• ICY, SLUSHY ROADS | This is honestly my biggest barrier to winter biking (probably is for most people). I know at some point I will have to face it head on, when winter really hits, but I am still in denial about this.  I am planning to wear my winter boots, which will keep my feet warm and allow to me to easily put my foot down when needed.  I have changed my tires to mountain bike tires and will test how far these will take me. A few recommendations I’ve heard on winter biking include: keeping tire pressure on the low end, ride in an easy gear, avoid slippery spots (like manhole covers), and take up a lane to force cars to yield when necessary. My biggest motivator to fill this pothole is the incentive I have in place for myself – a new bike. Seeing that my mountain bike was purchased use over 7 years ago and I haven’t ridden it as such since I moved to Saint Paul 6 years ago it is a prime candidate for becoming a “winter bike;” making way for my new bike.

Thanks, Amber, for sharing some of these “potholes.”  I’d also like to add to this list that physical “potholes” should be considered as well:  bicycling infrastructure (maintenance, infrastructure and design, and education and encouragement).  Addressing physical barriers through support of complete streets can help get more bicyclists out on the road, all year long.   

Do you bike during the winter?  I’d love to hear what tips you have on staying safe and enjoying wintertime cycling. 

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