Winter biking, my sub-theme, has two main components that make it unique to other seasons: It's typically cold, and there is usually snow and/or ice. It was difficult to find the latter, but there was a fair amount of cold to work with for my research.
First, as consistent with the chronology of the assignment instructions, I started with the ask portion of the assignment. I ended up talking to two people I would consider experts, one person who had some experience on the subject, and one person who was...less than an advocate.
I asked each a variety of broad questions such as: How do you prepare your bike? How do you prepare yourself? What experiences have you had? What experience do you have with winter traffic? Is there anything you can think of that might or might have improve your experience? ...etc. My notes ended up being frantic and scattered, but useful:
In the future, I would probably ask if recording audio would be alright with the interviewees.
Kevin (from the shop) and a worker at Varsity Bike & Transit (VB&T) were my experts. Kevin had been consistently biking season-round for more than 20 years, and the VB&T worker had used a bicycle as his only source of transportation for several years. A worker in Erick's was my third interviewee who had done some winter biking in the past, but has not done it regularly. He was, however, not against winter cycling. He suggested that people should not be scared to try it as long as they are properly prepared. My anti-expert can be summed up with the quote "I'M NOT GOING TO BIKE IN THE WINTER!" This was a friend of mine that I knew would bike in the warm seasons but not in the winter.
Some commonalities in these conversations stressed cold and dressing properly as a major concern. It wasn't simply a matter of keeping warm by bundling up, but wearing proper layers. Generally, it was suggested that one should have a bass layer that will pull moisture from the body, an insulating layer that will keep heat in, and an outer layer that will resist wind and moisture. Breathability was cited as an issue. Since you are being active in the cold, having stuffy clothing would make you uncomfortable and potentially overheated under your core layers. Ideally, it seemed to be consensus that clothing that was able to breath but resisted wind from the outside would be ideal.
An emphasis on the limbs, digits, and face being properly protected from the cold was also evident.
While it was generally agreed that consistent general maintenance of a bicycle is the best way to "winterize" a bicycle, there were a couple different opinions on the best options for tires. One option was to buy (relatively spendy) studded tires, which included metal studs in the knobs of the tire. The drawback to this was the cost and the increased resistance when cycling on normal terrain/pavement. Another option was to have knobby tires that were slightly deflated to increase contact area and traction. This had the downside of decreased efficiency as well. The third option mentioned was to use treaded, non-knobby tires. It was suggested that this would allow you to cut through slush and snow to maintain contact with pavement. The downside to this would be riding on ice.
None of the interviewees thought much of the bicycles made specifically for winter biking (the fat-tire bikes). These were said not to be worth the extra work required, and that they were mostly for off-road recreation purposes, rather than practical transportation.
Being visible and avoiding traffic was a concern across the board as well. More so than being able to see, lights were deemed necessary to increase the biker's visibility to others, as the winter season has an increased duration of darkness. Grievances were apparent regarding the lack of proper bicycle lane maintenance. It was communicated that a winter cyclist will typically have to ride towards the center of the car lane due either to cars being parked away from the curb, due to remnant piles of snow from plows, or because only the car lanes being properly plowed. One of my experts said he always is aware of his surroundings and has a plan of escape if things start to go wrong on the road.
My non-enthusiast was mostly concerned with being cold and a fear of slipping. He said he had once or twice gone for groceries on his bike in the winter complained that the experience was cold and difficult for the slickness of shoveled sidewalks and the substantial increase of resistance when biking on snowy grass. The bad experiences may have contributed to his distaste for the motorless mode of movement.
One interesting bit of information I gathered was that if you are using normal lubricants (as many do, rather than buying and applying cold-weather product), it is wise to bring your bike in periodically in order to allow the lubricant to fully thaw.
Experience was the next stage of my investigatory journey. While the snow and ice were not readily available to me, or a bicycle for that matter, I was able to do the next closest thing. I ended up bundling myself up and hitting the road on my razor scooter. This was cold at first, but I quickly felt uncomfortably warm under my scarf, jacket, sweatshirt, and t-shirt, while still having cold fingers under my gloves and a chilled face. I was not prepared quite properly for the temperature and amount of work I was doing. it would have been nice to have my face protected from the wind, warmer hands, and a more regulated system for my torso. When I was done with my excursion, I immediately tore off my scarf, opened my jacket, and unzipped my sweatshirt as I stepped inside to warmth to save my digits. My warmth accessories and scooter are shown below:
Finally, and out of order to the assignment instructions, I did some observing. I spent time on the corner of 15th and 4th, periodically stepping into the McDonald's for warmth. Mostly I observed people who seemed ill prepared, but maybe they knew something I didn't? Or perhaps they just had relatively short rides. Many did not have anything covering their ears, had thin gloves not dissimilar from what I was wearing when my fingers got cold on my scooter, and a winter jacket. I didn't see anyone that seemed terribly professional looking in regards to sporty biking gear, and most did not have helmets. I suspect more helmets might come out when the snow actually falls.
A couple problems I could pull from this are:
Mike (the anti-enthusiast) needs a way to feel confident in biking in the winter because he fears being cold and the potential dangers. This comes from his reasoning behind not wanting to take part in the activity.
Guy (the guy behind the counter at VB&T) needs a way to keep aware of his surroundings because he is forced to bike close to traffic in unsafe conditions. This comes from his description of needing to be on his toes and have ready an escape plan at all times.
Kevin (from the shop) needs less expensive accessories because he feels that he would buy things like studded tires and fancy accessories if he had the extra money.