Thursday, January 29, 2009
Because you asked for it.
Okay, maybe you didn’t ask for it but here it is: How to bike in the winter in Minneapolis. Here is the thing. It is possible to bike year round even when it’s 20 below. It is possible. It’s also cold. On the other hand, the bus is such a drag. You have to wait for it out in the cold. There are other people on it. You have to go where the bus goes, not where you want to go. You can’t cut through the park. You can’t jump up on the sidewalk to avoid traffic. Also who wants to pay upwards of 1.75 or even 2.25 for a trip that takes relatively the same amount of time and also is not exhilarating and does not remind you you are alive? But there are some things you should know if you are going to winter bike and live. You don’t want to get run over by a car or crushed under an 18 wheeler. You also don’t want to get hypothermia or frostbite. 1. You need to be warm. It’s windy out there. I assume you’re wearing long underwear, thick socks. I assume you have two pairs of gloves on. I like to wear two face masks, one over the other and then stick my helmet on top of it. Some people don’t wear helmets, but if I get brain damage, my playwriting career is over, or at least retarded. Also, I don’t have real insurance. Okay so you have a good coat, you have gloves or mittens. It’s a good idea to wear plastic pants over your pants. Otherwise the thing can happen where you get sort of chapped legs. Also it keeps the salt and mud off the pants you are probably wearing to temp for 8 hours a day at 12 dollars an hour. 2. You need to be able to see. If you’re like me and wear glasses, you may not be able to ride when it goes below zero. Below zero, your face will hurt, but if you cover up your nose, your glasses will steam up. It is a bad idea to ride your bike if you can’t see. Try not to do that. I’m considering getting some goggles which might prevent this. I’ll let you know if it works. 3. People have said to me that it’s a good idea to lower your seat for the winter. I think they are right. That way if the brakes are iced up and fail to work, you can put your feet down to stop. Oh yeah, you might want to wear some boots too—the good-stopping kind. 4. You probably want to stick to a single gear most of the time. I like one where the back wheel spins a lot faster. That way, you get better traction by spinning the wheel faster, instead of the alternate which is that the wheel revolves slower and you spin without moving forward. You better come to terms with the fact that you’re not going to move as fast in the snow. You just aren’t. But you don’t really want to wipe out. If you’re going too fast to put your feet down and stop, you might end up under a truck if you hit some ice. And it’s also going to take a lot more effort to ride if there is snow, but if you’re in a residential area going down one of the two lane roads that is now a one lane road because of the snow, the traffic is often non-existent and you get across town pretty fast. Downtown will often be plowed. Although sometimes where you would usually ride, say over on the right, if there is no bike lane, it will be full of slush and ice. And it will be uneven. You can’t ride there. It’s slippery and harrowing. Instead, you need to just ride in the middle of the lane. Fuck the traffic. They can go around you. Or if they get confrontational, you can always hop up on the sidewalk. It may not be legal in the non-residential areas but I have never seen anyone get a ticket. Someone claimed a friend of his got a ticket once, but I’m going to assume it was in the summer. Cops have thus far ignored me riding on the sidewalk when it unsafe to ride on the street. Just don’t go too fast and don’t hit any pedestrians. 5. If you’re riding in newly fallen or unplowed snow, you’re going to have to grip the handlebars tightly with both hands if you want the bike to go in your desired direction. Remember, in the winter, biking is a full body workout. You might need to shift your weight to the front of the bike to keep it on course. 6. If shit starts to look scary, get off the bike. Get on the sidewalk. Get your bearings. Figure out how not to die. Your instincts will keep you alive. If your instincts tell you to go into a coffee shop to warm up and get a coffee, do it. Time is slower in Minneapolis. You’ll still get there on time. If your instincts tell you to stop and lie down in the snow, don’t do that, however. You may want to go into a coffee shop instead. There are a bunch of them. Take your pick. I like hot chocolate, but you should pick what’s right for you. 7. Have a good time. If you are dreading getting on the bike, you should not be doing it. If the thought of riding around while it’s snowing doesn’t make you grin, take the bus. It might take longer, but it goes most anyplace. The only reason to bike is that it’s a lot more fun. For more tips, go to other places on the internet, perhaps to actual biking groups. This list was compiled from hearsay and practice. There might be much better ideas that a non-lazy googler can find. Good Luck! Have fun!