Ride Boldly!

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Copenhagenize on Winter Cycling: Right, Yet Not Entirely

The excellent Copehnagenize has an excellent post on how most posts on cycling in winter complicate the issue and emphasize subculture instead of mainstreaming the notion.

They both have a point, and miss one, in my opinion.

It’s a very good point that most of the info disseminated by bicycle advocates about cycling in the snow really orients to lifestyle cyclists and not people who ride bikes. At the same time, even somewhere like Minneapolis, riding in the snow isn’t yet considered normal, and all the gung-ho promotion of it as normal is not going to win over most people. In addition, even when you deal with a bikeway like the Midtown Greenway, which is plowed regularly, the relative normalcy of cycling in winter is also influenced by how a city approaches snow/ice removal in general, and how a city’s drivers approach cyclists in general.

In winter, in Minneapolis, drivers are less likely to look for and expect cyclists than they are normally. This is just a truth.

In winter, snow removal practices influence cycling possibilities more than usual. Snow removal focuses on major routes first, which are often not ideal bike routes, especially in snow. The artery streets that get priority are often faster, with limited shoulder/bike facility, and even if plowed to the curb, end up a little narrower than usual.

I try to avoid the cyclist elitist approach, but there are places that there is reason to emphasize certain approaches. Yes, they’re right that if “dressing in layers” is news to you, you’re likely to be dead before the end of your first Minnesota winter. But issues like how to handle in snow, how black ice mucks with bike handling, why maybe the bike you have in your garage ISN’T a good idea in some conditions (the idea of riding my Giant OCR1 on ice? Oh dear god no!), how route selection may need to vary in snow… all real. All legitimate in cities that don’t take cyclists for granted, and whose infrastructure is a hodge-podge of accommodation and suitability at the BEST of times, let alone when said streets and accommodations need to be plowed and salted.

The subculture can promote winter cycling in ways that don’t stink of subculture. But right now, cycling in winter remains subcultural. And we’d all be lying if we said that riding in winter was just like riding at any other time, or that the behaviors of June translate on a 1-to-1 basis to the behaviors of  January after 3-5″, a clear, a partial melt, and another 2″ fall. Because we’d be lying heinously in ways that if anyone were dumb enough to believe us could cause injury, confusion, and delay.

Should winter cycling be a circle-jerk? No. Does it require some extra thought processes? Hell yeah.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


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  2. “City of London, UK”
    I was quite impressed with the well thought out planning for cyclists in the city of London. Although there are bicycle/car accidents, their traffic planning runs smoothly enough for everyone to get to their destination daily and it begins with:
    1.bike traffic laws
    2.bike paths running with traffic
    3.curbs along side bike paths
    4.enforcement of misuse inside bike paths… Which means, bikes have right of way over pedestrians..no skateboarding, not littering or other activity inside bike paths. ONLY BICYCLES

    In this huge city where everything is ancient; if this commuter mind set can work in London, there is no reason it can’t happen in most cities in the US.