Chicago Winter Biking in the News

From the Chicago Sun Times: White Wheeling

WINTER SPORTS | It takes more than a little snow to slow down Chicago cyclists

January 16, 2008

Winter bicycling in Chicago is gaining momentum. Just ask veteran cyclist Alex Wilson and he'll tell you the evidence is in the snow.

"This last heavy snow, on my way home, I was really surprised to see at least two sets of fresh tracks in front of me. It was pretty nasty out," said Wilson, whose not-for-profit community workshop West Town Bikes, 2418 W. North, offers everything from youth earn-a-bike programs to adult bike-building classes.

Up until about five years ago, Wilson was among a smallish group of familiar faces blazing the trails though Chicago's sleet, subzero temperatures, and around sidetracked drivers. (The latter, of course, is a year-round annoyance.)

But a confluence of events -- a spike in gas prices, road congestion, slow zones during CTA construction and the expansion of the city's cycling lanes -- have led to a rise in bike riding in the city, observers say. And the winter is no exception.

T.C. O'Rourke says the proof can be found off-road, too, from more winter gear on the shelves of cycling and sporting shops to dating Web sites.

"Just last night, I saw a personal ad that said they were a year-round cyclist," the 35-year-old O'Rourke said recently. His point was that year-round biking has become a lifestyle, even a philosophy. O'Rourke's eight-mile commute from his East Garfield Park home to his Loop job is done on two wheels most days. On particularly rainy or snowy days, he might opt for public transportation.

This Friday's Bike-to-Work event, from 7 to 9 a.m. in Daley Plaza, is just one of many winter cycling events aimed at educating commuters about riding in the cold. It doesn't hurt that they'll get some treats and a nice warm drink before heading to the office.

Year-round cyclists have heard the amazement in the voices of the curious -- those who say they wish they knew the secret of winter biking. And Wilson answers the question: "Confidence and commitment to do it. There's no great secret to riding your bike during winter."

Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips (Wordspace Press, $14.99) offers a concise explanation on how to ride in snow, from staying off the ice to wiggling your fingers to keep the blood circulating. Author Dave Glowacz also offers instructions on how to dress for the ride to work and how to fold work clothes to minimize wrinkling.

Winter bikers agree that the streets are plowed so quickly that you seldom have to fret over road conditions.

Margo O'Hara, spokeswoman for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, whose membership is on the rise, says this is her first winter on a bike and, now that she has her fenders -- which deflect water and mud that might otherwise end up on her back -- she's rolling along.

She admits there is a learning curve when it comes to dressing.

"The temperature was the biggest surprise," she said. "Halfway to work, I'd have to pull over and take my hat off because I was sweating."

Adds Wilson of West Town Bikes: "Some cyclists find out they put on their big parka and they're overdressed."

Julie Sherman, past president of the Chicago Cycling Club, a social cycling organization, says getting started may be a matter of just joining an organized ride to get a feel for cruising through the cold and chatting with others about how they do it.

"In winter, sometimes I think you need that motivation that there's going to be a social gathering," Sherman said.

"Then you think, 'If I can do this now, think what I can do when spring rolls around.' "

For more information on winter biking in Chicago, check out www.bike winter.org.

John Ladner makes holiday cycling a festive occasion with decorative lights. It?s all part of the motivation to keep riding during the winter.
(Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

RELATED STORIES Layer up for winter riding jump: Local bike paths

No comments: