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Winter in Minnesota: To bike, or not to bike?
Though winter bicycling is a popular trend among the Minnesota subculture, there are those who wish to take this activity mainstream. If you’re among the many curious or interested fair weather cyclists thinking about taking the leap into the chillier temperatures, there are a few things you should know before you go.
The biggest thing to keep in mind and be sure to prepare for, if deciding to ride in the winter, is rider safety. Besides the obvious drop in temperature, some of the things you’ll need to consider are:
Increased low-light conditions
Uncleared roadways and alternate routes
How to deal with a breakdown or an emergency in colder conditions
How your bike handles in snow
What to do and how to handle when you hit black ice
Why you may need a different bike for winter rides
Making sure you have the right clothing and gear (Layers, hat and gloves)
Spare clothing for your destination
Proper footwear for winter cycling
Drive train, tires and proper safety lighting
Emergency bike kit and first aid kit
Proper hydration and food to ensure you have the energy necessary to complete your ride (and in case of emergency.)
Among the biggest things to take into consideration is the increased risk of an even more inattentive, auto-wielding public. The fact is, in the middle of winter, drivers are going to be less likely to expect and watch out for bicyclists. This means you have to be twice as vigilant.
WINTER CYCLING: NOT ALL OR NOTHING
The great thing about making the decision to ride in winter is that it’s not an all-or-nothing decision. You can start slowly, riding only on the less inclement days and taking the proper precautions, or biking only some of the days of your commute. You can also combine your commute, opting to drive or use public transportation part of the way and riding the rest of the way.
Winter riding doesn’t have to mean subjecting yourself to misery or unnecessary risk. In fact, the choice to ride in the winter should translate to having an increased awareness and preparedness for the additional risks involved with winter cycling, including the necessary development of new riding skills.
WINTER RIDING SKILLS
Avoid hugging the curb: Snow accumulates curbside from cars driving by and snow plows, well, plowing by, creating an uneven pile of icy, slushy bumps that are hazardous to riders. Also, in wet conditions, you’ll find broken glass and other bits of road debris washed to the shoulder by rain. Keep close to the side of the road but far enough away from the ridge to stay safe.
Snow and Ice: Because snow often melts during a warm snap but then refreezes in the evening or when things cool down again, you have to be watchful for black ice. This is an extremely dangerous aspect of riding your bike in winter weather conditions. To avoid problems, be sure to ride slowly and steadily. If your bike does hit an icy patch and your tires begin to slip, just like in a car, go with it – don’t fight it. You may be able to correct or aim for a snow bank. If you’re moving slowly and wearing the appropriate clothing and gear, the damage from your fall may be minimal.
Ride Loose: Though riding in these conditions can be bit nerve-wracking, especially for a newbie, try to keep from tensing up. The looser your body, the better the chance you have of retaining the flexibility necessary for course corrections that could save you from a nasty accident or fall.
Maintenance: Winter weather can wreck havoc on your bike, especially on its external drive train and chain. Snow, water, sand, salt, mud and muck can really gum things up. By getting in the habit of cleaning your bike’s chain and drive train after each ride, you’ll save yourself a lot in rust and increase safety. All you need to keep things running smoothly is some chain cleaner, a rag and an old toothbrush. Once it’s clean, be sure to re-grease your chain and wipe down your brakes to ensure that there is nothing standing in between you and stopping when you need it most.
If following these few tips for safety’s sake seems too much to take on, winter biking may not be for you. But if you want to put your pedals on the road and enjoy the exhilaration of a snowy ride, make sure you know what you’re in for first and take the proper precautions.
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