Home > Guest Writer, Safety Issues, Seasonal Concerns > Comfortable Commuter: Gearing Up For Winter Biking (Part II)

Comfortable Commuter: Gearing Up For Winter Biking (Part II)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Part II of contributor Sarna Salzman’s reflection on her first year of winter biking…We left off in Part I with Sarna ready to go shopping for a new ride. Considering the 9″-12″ of snow northern Michigan received last night, her story is still quite timely–stay upright everyone.

Comfortable Commuter: Gearing Up (Part II)

by Sarna Salzman

Shopping For The Right Bike

One of the points I negotiated before the move was help from my partner to extend my biking season. He’s a biker for sure, sporty too; a true cyclist. We started by looking to cities that have loads of bike commuters and loads of snow. In Copenhagen, a lot of people ride these great, stable tricycles with two wheels and cargo in the front. In this country one of these is a $3,000+ proposition. As I was still nervous about committing to the winter commute, this felt like too high a price.

Next, I went solo to local bike shops. We have great shops with great staff in this town, but every time I went in alone I was steered toward mountain bikes. Were those fat tires the answer, really? Then why did every winter biker I know steer me away from the fat tire? What’s the deal here? The answer to that question, I don’t know. The sporty biker beau, however, upon walking into McClain’s was immediately supported in his desire for me to have a simple cross-bike with all the fixings.

And so, the journey down this path began.

‘What is a cross-bike?’ was my first question. It’s a cyclo-cross bicycle, which is designed for a style of racing that demands the cyclist traverse a number of course features, often including mud. It has a nice blend of functionality like the child of a pure road bike mom and a grandma on the father’s side who was a mountain bike. It can wear a nice knobby tire and some extra accessories really easily. Just as easy for the bike is to get stripped down to bare essentials, wear slick tires and let the rider chase lunch 50 miles away. So far, so good.

Though less expensive than a car, a new bike is not cheap. There are a million ways to put together a bike purchase and this step really requires a proficiency in bike-lingo. Luckily there are many folks around who were happy to help with that barrier. My advice is to make sure that you feel comfortable with your guide and that they encourage the barrage of questions you are likely to have. The process definitely took some time and I am really happy with the results. One shout-out at this point needs to go to Dennis Bean Larson at the Fixed Gear Gallery who outfitted me last year with my first road bike. He introduced me to a bike frame that actually fits my body, which has revolutionized how my shoulders and back feel forever. McClain’s staff fitted me and my cyclo-cross bike together – another step that can take time and is worth every minute.

So, my season extender and primary commuter bike is a sweet, small-framed Motobecane CX with the dual brakes that I like and the strings up-top, which keeps them clear of all the muck on the roads. It has more gears than I need, but the price was right.

Other important dressings included:

  • Studded tires:Worth the ducats. Bike tires are made by the same manufacturers of winter car tires.
  • Fenders: : Absolutely necessary if one does not want to be forced into wearing rain pants everyday. Love them.
  • Lights: : duh. I’m more concerned with ensuring that oncoming and passing traffic can see me, rather than light for me to see by. Make sure they are bright and that they stay bright.
  • Rack for carrying paneers: They increasingly have some cute ones that can easily slip on and off the bike serving as an all-purpose bag that can come into commission chambers with me – keeping my gear theft safe and still looking good for work.

And for me, I also got a couple of pieces of fabulous gear:

Watching out for blind-spots

  • Helmet: Mine is a sweet over-the-ears helmet and a gift (from the beau) direct from the motherland of winter bike commuting (Denmark) and has a nice girl-ish flare that I enjoy.
  • Rear-view Mirror: Nerdy or no, the mirror that attaches to the helmet is the best. This piece of gear helps me feel safer than almost any other.
  • Goggles: I found out these are supposed to be called “optics”. I wear glasses, and to effectively use a scarf without fogging up, these are necessary. I had to go to a ski shop to get the kind that fit over prescription glasses. I think my face might be smaller than the average because they nearly cover my nose. Oh well, more protection, I guess.
  • Paneers: One of those cute paneers with a hard, washable bottom and a bonus bottle opener.
  • Reflective pant-leg Velcro things:What are they called? They keep your pants from getting in your gears.
  • More lights:Can’t have too many, really.
  • Padded gloves: I don’t know about you, but I feel like a football player getting brain damage from the jarring of the road through my arms. Well padded bike gloves really help and I wear them under my winter gloves (instead of forking over for expensive winter bike gloves that don’t look very warm).

For a brand new bike that continues to bring me a priceless feeling of liberation, the price (well under $3000) feels reasonable. I’m fortunate too in that my employer footed a big part of the bill as part of my health & wellness plan. Ask your employer if they will do the same for you. The idea is increasingly main stream these days – just ask the Hagarty HR department.

Gear Taking Care Of, What About Infrastructure?

Now I’m back to noticing infrastructural choices that could improve the life of a bike commuter in this City. Winter brings its own challenges and I don’t enjoy certain sections of 8th Street no matter how I try. When I get nervous, I do what all bikers should do: I claim my lane, demand the attention of drivers (with smiles and waves) and use my rear view mirror a lot.

Overall, I feel safer not being tied to a car every day.

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  1. March 23, 2011 at 10:21 am

    There is a problem with “fenders” — the area between wheel & fender gets packed with snow so you are almost always slogging away, riding with the brakes on. But no fenders means you get a stripe of snow (or mud) on your back. BTW, for me, the most stable winter bike I’ve ever ridden is a tandem — with or without a passenger in the second seat. When the front wheels “slips,” the back is stable — back wheel slips, front is stable. In any case, Good luck!!

  2. Ashlea
    March 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    More power to you!

  3. kwhite
    March 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Way to go, Sarna! I’m still trying to figure out how I can commute by bicycle in the winter, but I can’t avoid Garfield Ave. and I just don’t trust it😦

  4. March 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Imagine a Garfield Ave. after a road diet: bike lanes from 8th all the way to the South Airport and beyond, sidewalks and speeds at 25-30… Not that unfathomable…with a little help from citizens, City staff may just consider that a priority rather than a possibility. Emails of inquiry wouldn’t hurt.

  5. Greg
    March 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    kwhite,

    Could you not use Hastings on the East or Fern on the West of Garfield? It seems this would be a soultion without the need to spend any money on Garfield

  6. March 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Eventually, we will spend money on Garfield. When we do, I’d argue it’d be money well spent to change the character of that corridor to be more inclusive of all users and to make living, or running a business, on or near it better with slower speeds, better crossings and to act more like a series of village settings instead of like South Airport. The vehicle counts do not warrant 4 to 5 lanes dedicated to motorized traffic.

    Full disclosure, I live a block from Garfield.

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