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December 19, 2004

Let the Adventure begin

Well, I canít wait until next year. Iíve been inspired by Jim and my friend Dan who are still biking to work. I wasnít prepared for the darkness or the cold, but that can be fixed. So can my attitude of adventure.

If Iím really serious about reducing toxins and pollutants in our environment, reduce my dependence on the consumption of gasoline and make myself more physically fit, I need to be more than a fair-weather advocate of alternative modes of transportation. I need to put my ideals into action. Granted, our Minnesota climate provides obstacles other warmer states donít have (ice, snow and sub-zero weather), but I believe cycling in the winter could be as safe and fun as any other winter sport, providing we are prepared for it properly. When I was a Boy Scout Leader, I built snow shelters and slept out in sub-zero weather, snowshoed and did cross-country skiing through some deep snow and treacherous terrain. Iíve done ski-joring with my dog and built a dog sled to haul camping gear into remote cabins that our vehicles could not access. It seems to me that cycling in the Twin-Cities all through the winter is no different than those winter sports, except maybe a little more tame.
I admit there are a lot of differences, but that just means I have to learn this sport and the inside tricks to making it work.
I plan on sharing my process of year-round cycling in Minnesota, like Jim who has been more than inspiring with his photos and commentary about cycling.. And in the Spring, Iím starting Bike Racing but thatís a different sport than winter bicycle commuting. Also, I think this will complete my liberation from the car. I started commuting last year by bus, and then in March started cycling to and from work. If I can bike, ride public transportation and walk everywhere I need to go, then I will have no need for my car. Iím not there yet, but I can tell it will be a great ride!

My first step is getting the right gear for this sport. Like every sport, the proper gear is necessary. It doesnít have to be name brand gear, just functional and appropriate for the given task. I wouldnít go rappelling without the properly rated carabiners and ropes, and I canít ride my racing bike through 3 feet of snow. I canít wear shorts in a blizzard. I shouldnít expect the same gear to work for all situations. Since I donít have a lot of available funds (College classes are expensive!), Iíll be trying to put together this new gear creatively and for as little as possible.

Here is my research and thoughts so far. If you have any suggestions or corrections to my reasoning, please let me know. I see three main areas I need to work on to be able to commute to work all winter here:

Bike: It has to be able to handle all weather conditions, such as sleet, snow, ice, rain, etc. For several important reasons, Iíve decided to start with a basic mountain bike, which I donít have yet. The mountain bike is better designed for rough terrain and the forks can accommodate bigger, wider knobbier tires. The mountain bike handlebars are straight across, which will provide better handling in icy conditions. Specific things Iím considering for modifications are the pedals, fenders, brakes and tires.

Visibility: Since riding a bicycle during a Minnesota winter is essentially riding in the dark, better lights and reflectors will be necessary to be visible. This is really a safety issue. I fought with this problem commuting to and from work as soon as daylight savings time hit this Fall. I donít get done with work until 5pm and it was dark then. I will be looking at several things to make myself really visible: Iíll be using a bright paint, lots of reflector tape, lots of blinky lights and a really bright headlight to show the obstacles in my path.

Clothing: Since freezing my hands, feet and face is a very real prospect, Iíll be looking at ways to stay dry and warm and properly dressed for the sport.

Given more time I could most likely find a free mountain bike somewhere. Just a few weeks ago I saw one sitting out by someoneís curb being thrown away. If anyone wants to donate one for this project, please let me know. But I have to start somewhere so my first stop will be to check out the bikes on sale right now at The Sibly Bike Depot in St. Paul. They are not open on Monday and Tuesday so Iíll be going there on Wednesday.
There is a reason Iím going there, besides that they have bicycles for a reasonable cost. Even though they donít have mountain bikes for free they say they have mountain bikes starting at 50 dollars. Other standard bikes start at 17 dollars. They fix and repair bikes and even have a shop with tools and tons of recycled parts for individuals to build and maintain their own bikes. The bikes they sell have already been serviced and in working condition. Besides the good deal on a bike, I would be helping to support something I feel is a good cause.
The Sibly Bike Depot http://www.bikeped.org/ is part of the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance (MNBPA). It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working to promote non-motorized transportation in our state. They work with a small budget made up entirely of donations from supporters and over 90% of their labor is from volunteers. Their work includes activities in Community Education, School Education, Advocacy, Recycling and Community Building. From teaching basic bicycle repair skills to inner-city youth to stripping and recycling thousands of junk bicycles and keeping them out of the landfills, MNBPA has been steadily working since 2001 toward itís mission of facilitating an increase of bicycle and pedestrian transportation. In addition to advocacy they operate the Sibley Bike Depot- http://www.bikeped.org/Depot.html - a community education, repair and retail facility.

Wednesday night Iíll post an update on my experience. Life becomes an adventure when our attitudes are adventurous.

Posted by carl1236 at December 19, 2004 11:12 PM | Winter-Biking


I have an old el cheapo Huffy mountain bike taking up space in my garage. If you want it, it's yours. It'll need a little TLC (tubes, tires, lubrication, etc), but when I used to ride it 10 years ago, it worked fine and I never had any complaints about it. It's a little heavy and mildly ugly, but for a winter bike, it wouldn't be too bad. I'd be tempted to convert it to a single-speed if possible - simpler is better in low temps and ice and snow. Anyway, the price is right.

Posted by: Jim at December 21, 2004 2:15 PM

One more thing, on clothing: I'll be doing a piece on my site about my daily winter biking wardrobe (it isn't too impressive) and I'll offer some reviews of what I think is working for me, or not.

Posted by: Jim at December 21, 2004 2:18 PM