After some online forum discussion, there is much more that I can say about winter and urban bicycling, and more is sure to come. It is another snow day in Baltimore, and tomorrow probably as well, and it was great to think about something besides work. The midatlantic blizzard of 2010, though terrible, provided a fertile context for discussion of winter bicycling
I have a practical commuter's perspective, that includes living close to your workplace. Although it is a key decision for a bicycle commuter, I think that it is merely wise. Living close to work would be a good idea for just about everyone, for many similar reasons as expressed in the article and more. Some people will decide to ride their bicycle to work after they have moved closer to their job, because it is so efficient and time-saving to combine the commute with the workout. In rush hour I regularly beat the cars across town on my bicycle.
The Dahon Curve that I ride
has many advantages, but like any bicycle I suppose, it has quite a few disadvantages. It is my first ultra-light, which is great because it is so easy to carry and stow. With the 16 inch rims, I can easily turn it around inside an elevator. I think that the lighter metal is not as strong, and there is more wear and tear. I will probably get another Curve to replace this one, in spite of several misgivings including the cost. The advantages are far too great, and I have had two of them, so that I have quite a few spare parts. The style of the Curve is highly distinctive, and that is one of my favorite advantages. I have helmet mounted lights too. I want people to see the bicyclist, and I am often recognized around Baltimore because of this style of bicycling.
Bicycling helped make college affordable for me, which is part of the practical bicycle commuter's perspective, but I have been stewing about these ideas for years. It was a big relief to finally get it written down and published on the web. Although the storm is terrible in many places, it is fortunate for someone publishing on winter bicycling. As I said in the article, I have about 30 years of bicycle commuting experience. I am not sure that I would be so eager to brave the elements without that experience, and becoming an adept bicycle rider may be something of a prerequisite. Hopefully, people are not discouraged by that fact, because as the many bicycling clubs can attest, it is very fun to become adept. It is fun and beneficial in so many ways.
One time my hands got very cold while riding, and I vowed that it would never happen again. I have given this problem much attention. This aspect is a story unto itself, but I will skip it in the name of brevity. The solution of course depends on how cold it is, and the wind factor, and I find regular thin riding gloves or work gloves to be sufficient for chilly days. If it is windy and cold, more is needed. I have a pair of Trek heavy weather riding gloves, which is good for most of the winter season in Baltimore City. These gloves are also very convenient.
When I lived in Boston, it was often far colder than in Baltimore City, and the Trek gloves would not be warm enough for that. I used to live in Baltimore County as well, and I locked the bike up at one of the light rail stations for the commute, and it was sometimes almost as cold as Boston. Even in the city, there are days when the Trek gloves are not enough. In Boston, I used real heavy weather gear, which I learned from my Coast Guard training. Perhaps you have seen the bright wet suits that they use to get in the freezing water, avoid hypothermia, and save lives. I just used the gloves, which I believe were polypropylene, and I put wool lined deerskin mittens over them. I also experimented with camel hair mittens inside the deer skin. As a result of these measures, my hands were rarely very cold in Boston, and never as cold as that fateful day. These days, I put the deer skin mittens over the Trek gloves, which seems to be adequate for the coldest days. It is important when considering gloves that they not be too tight, so that blood circulation can warm the hands.
Another possible addition is ear muffs, which may be desirable for the coldest days. I didn't use them, even in Boston, and I got interesting dry flakes of skin on my ear lobes. They were rarely sore though. Some may consider ear muffs or face protection as a prerequisite for winter bicycling, but I have not personally found that to be the case. It should be noted that I do wear glasses, and some may wish to consider goggles.
I was certainly married with children in college and grad school, but that did not stop my bicycle commuting. Although my wife and I maintained the bicycle-only lifestyle for months into our marriage, she argued that she needed a car when she became pregnant, and I found the argument to be plausible for her. As the years progressed, it became very obvious that it was my wife's car, although she did help me out with a lift from time to time, and I borrowed it sometimes when the bicycle needed repairs. It is not difficult to see that someone with many children could need a car, although I would argue that the car should at least be dispensed with after the kids begin to become self-reliant. In fact, that is what we did. My wife (now ex) continues with this, but prefers public transportation. We have demonstrated that a car is not essential or required for daily living, although there may be a few exceptions. Since moving to Baltimore City, I have rented a car once or twice a year in order to get a few heavy errands done and make trips to the LDS temple in Washington DC
. Cars do have their place, but I think they are extremely far overused in this society. I am delighted to see people try and minimize the impact of their automobiles, such as using small inexpensive vehicles and avoiding unnecessary travel or participation in automobile culture, which is adverse in so many ways.
I would like to thank the Johns Hopkins University, Williams College
, and Research Triangle Park
(RTP) cycling groups, and others for reading and commenting on the winter bicycling article. It has been a fabulous snow day activity.