2.20.2008

Reflections on 1/2 a season of winter biking

It's almost the end of February, and we have reached the heart of what is the most brutal stretch of a Chicago winter. For those of you who live here, you're already well acquainted with the bone-chilling, gale-force blasts of arctic air that carry a wind chill punch of -23F or worse; you know all about overnight snow dumps of a foot or more, and well-timed whiteout blizzard conditions just in time for the evening commute home; you know that, while visually awesome, it kind of sucks. For those of you not from here who don't know these things, consider yourself lucky, unless you live somewhere like Buffalo, NY, in which case I'd feel sorry for you for the kind of hell you all have to put up with.

Despite all this apparent whining, I actually DO consider myself to be a winter person, and generally love being out in the cold; I guess I see braving the snow and ice with a smile as giving me some kind of life-long native street cred. "Oh yeah, this is how winters used to be like when I was a kid - where did you say you were from? Florida? That stinks." Part of this love for winter outdoors has extended into continuing my bicycle commutes to work as long into the season as possible. I managed to do it every day, through cold and snow, up until about the second week of this month. February has knocked me into driving mode, not so much because of the weather, but because my hibernation instincts have kicked in, and this makes it much harder to argue with the excuses I make for not biking. An extra hour in bed when it's 2F outside and still dark sounds so much better than donning the bike tights and other regalia, and hoping I don't absolutely kill myself hitting a patch of ice on the paths that lead from my street section of my commute, all the way to the museum.

These paths are my solo excuse for not riding right now. For those of you who haven't been to the museum campus, there are a series of paths that lead from Roosevelt Road, and Columbus Drive, all the way to the museum doors. These paths are very poorly maintained, so there is often a solid layer of ice or a few inches of snow that pedestrians and cyclists have to deal with. Add to this the fact that a lot of these paths go down hills and into turns, this makes them downright hazardous on morning where the areas that were salted and all melted the night before have once again refrozen into an even harder to spot sheet of black ice. Not good. All I can do now is wait for a minor thaw to get back to riding which, hopefully, will happen soon. By next season I hope to have some kind of cheap mountain bike (I want to try trail riding this summer anyway) so that I can have some studded tires with which to traverse these icy fields with confidence. Until then, I'm stuck with my 60lb steel monster with street tires which, while completely adequate on a nicely-plowed and salted street, don't really help me much when I get to ice and slush territory. Ah well, at least she's more reliable in messy conditions than my old-but-lite street bike that has skinnier tires.

It's all a learning curve, but I'm pretty happy with how well I've stuck to it so far. For a first time winter biker, I don't really see a couple week's setback as too terrible, but I can't wait to get back into the saddle!

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