Every third Thursday of the month the Minneapolis Institute of Art hosts its Third Thursday Event. At these events the museum and exhibits stay open late (from 6-9pm) and art is celebrated with drinks, beer, music, and various themed programs. This past Thursday was the annual Third Thursday Bike night. A group ride started from TwinSix and led cyclists straight through the museum doors and into the courtyard. Summit beers were plentiful and a number of local bike-frame builders displayed their custom bikes. There was free valet parking for bicyclists, live music, a photobooth, and free admission to the Rembrandt in America exhibit. Santa Cruz showed off some its beautiful mountain bikes. Hundreds of bicyclists were in attendance and all were in high spirits. When the event closed at 9pm a number of bicyclists headed to Powderhorn to end their night with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (part of Minneapolis’ Movies in the Park). Be sure to check out the MIA’s website for future Third Thursday events as well as this summer’s Movies in the Park. They are great opportunities to get on your bike and experience some of best parts of Minneapolis culture.
Summer in Minneapolis is in full swing and that means the season of bike events is upon us. In the past few weeks some of Minneapolis most well-known events have occurred, while others will be upon us soon.
Sean Eddins working his volunteer shift.
At the end of June Minneapolis hosted it’s second annual 24 hour race, Powderhorn 24. Over a hundred teams and solo riders got on their bikes and faced 24 hours of riding, little or no sleep, and lots of fun. My team, Menstrual Cycles, was one of 5 female teams in this years race which was a huge jump from the previous year when only one female team joined the race.
Powderhorn 24 riders taking naps.
Here’s how a 24 hour race works: You can join one of multiple categories – female team, male team, mixed gender team, solo male, solo female. The goal is to complete as many laps on a five mile course as possible in the set 24 hours. There are 4 checkpoints on each lap that you must complete, and regular bonus stops for extra laps. One rider rides at a time. From there strategy is up to you and/or your team. My six-person team started by each taking three laps at a time. As it got later into the night and our sleep-deprivation and sore muscles began to kick in, we cut down to two laps. By the end each of us was sprinting one lap at a time. Toward the end a car cut me off and I went over my bars after slamming on my brakes which ended the race for me. Luckily my teammates hammered out some last few laps and we came in 2nd-place completing the same amount of laps as the first-place team.
Team Menstrual Cycles!
That same weekend in June, Minneapolis hosted the 40th annual Twin Cities Pride Festival. Varsity Bike sported our rainbow
Emily at Pride
flag at the shop and rode in the parade with the rainbowiest bike you’ve ever seen. Carmen and Emily rode bikes while Annie May got to ride in the decorated Bakfiets. Later, the Varsity girls ran into a family using a Bakfiets they’d bought from Varsity and they were able to get photos of the Pride-decorated Bakfeits together! It was a memorable Pride Festival and we can’t wait to do it again next year.
Annie May at Pride
The most recent Minneapolis bike event I attended was the Freedom From Pants Ride on the Fourth of July. Three of us from the shop participated in full, pants-less glory. This was the sixth annual underwear ride and this year it ballooned into nearly 400 pants-less, underwear-clad riders. This year I participated for my first time and had a blast. It was a great opportunity for me to be goofy while taking the risk to feel fully comfortable in my own skin. I am thoroughly grateful to the organizers for planning an event that is silly and fun, encourages you to be brave and bare all, while still being a comfortable place to meet new cyclists. I will definitely be back and pants-less next year!
Minneapolis Bicycle Events – Something for Everyone
As most Minneapolis residents know, we live in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. With this title comes benefits like an ability to take part in an array of diverse bicycling communities. In the last week I attended two vastly different events, both catering to specific and different branches of our Minneapolis bicycling world.
The first of those two events was the second race in the summer series put on by the Minneapolis Bicycle Messenger Association. The series is a spattering of various messenger-style races including alleycats, sprints, pick and drop, and criterium. Last Friday’s race was an alleycat requiring riders to ride about 17 total miles on a two-lap loop with 4 stops on each loop. The racers who showed up were fast and the winners completed the race in 50 minutes.
Though each bicycling community contains diversities in itself,the MBMA race series undoubtedly
MBMA After Party!
appeals to a certain type of cyclist. A variety of people participate but the series is first and foremost designed for messengers and other people who ride their bike everyday for a living. It aims to offer a serious and challenging but fun competition for the fastest, most technical, and most experienced urban riders in Minneapolis. If you can’t keep up a 20 mile per hour pace, don’t know the fastest routes to various locations in Minneapolis, or aren’t comfortable riding with and weaving through traffic, you will probably be left in the dust. You’re also likely to find that males vastly outnumber females in these races. At the race last Friday I was the only female rider even considering joining the race, and when I saw my competition and lack of other female participants, I opted instead to watch and support. Regardless of the specific nature of the MBMA series most people you meet will be incredibly friendly and inclusive whether you’re riding or watching, fast or slow, male or female. And volunteers are always welcome as people are needed to work stops or help check in riders. If you get the chance to attend, don’t hesitate. Come on out whether to race, watch, or volunteer and meet some new faces while taking part in an important part of urban bicycling culture.
Rock-it Cat Winner!
The second event I recently attended was the Northeast Ride (http://www.northeastride.org/about/). It took place this last Saturday on June 2. This ride could not be more different than the MBMA series. The ride was very publicized and was meant to attract all types of riders including young, old, families, new riders, experienced riders, NiceRide riders, and everything in between. I rode with two friends – one who is on the new side of bicycling and commuting regularly and another who was on a bike for the first time in years. Both of my friends comfortably participated and had a great time. The Northeast Ride set out to exhibit various aspects of Minneapolis’ Northeast community while promoting cycling for exercise/hobby, green living, and commuting. Each of the 9 stops provided information about Northeast Minneapolis or biking in general. One stop promoted a new yoga studio in the neighborhood, one gave away t-shirts for answering bike trivia correctly, one allowed us to taste local bike-delivered honey, helmets were given away, and free bike checks were provided. At the kickoff Peace Coffee and donuts were served and a band provided music completely powered by solar energy and people riding bicycles that powered generators.
The music was powered by bike generators!
After Party at Altered Esthetics!
The Northeast Ride was very user-friendly. There was ample parking space for the multiple riders who drove their cars with bikes in tow. It was as slow or fast paced as people desired, though most chose to take it leisurely. The ride totaled around 15 miles and only required participants to climb one major hill, at the top of which each person received a sticker boasting a successful climb to Minneapolis’ highest point. Afterward there was an after-party at Altered Esthetics art gallery which was hosting its 7th annual bike-art exhibit. Beer and food was served and everyone had time to relax after the ride and get to know some of the other riders. Though I personally felt that the price was a little steep ($25) and I generally enjoy faster-paced events, the Northeast Ride ultimately turned out to be a huge success. It attracted a whole group of new faces for me to meet, and I loved going in depth into an amazing Minneapolis neighborhood.
The point is that no matter what type of rider you are, you shouldn’t hesitate to take part in a community bicycle event. Whether you’re looking to ride for a cause, you have a need for speed, you want to support your local brewery or art gallery, you want to get involved in the efforts to develop Minneapolis’ bike infrastructure, or you just want to casually ride and meet new people there is something out there for you. Best of all, no matter what you decide to participate in, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re supporting camaraderie, community, and healthiness embodied in being a bicyclist.
Check out the following websites for some lovely events coming up:
Four years ago Minneapolis was chosen as a community to take part in a $100 million pilot project to improve biking and pedestrian infrastructure. Unlike previous projects this one sought to allow each of the four chosen communities to develop it’s own comprehensive plan of action to increase cycling and walking while decreasing more environmentally harmful methods of transportation. In Minneapolis the non-profit Bike Walk Twin Cities was put in charge. The result was monumentally successful and resulted in a 50 percent increase in biking while significant reductions were made in gallons of gas burned, health care costs, and carbon dioxide emissions. This is my story of becoming a bicyclist at the same time that Minneapolis was evolving to become one of the most well-known bike cities in the country.
At the end of 2006 I crashed my car. It was totaled and I was broke – a new car was not an option. Overnight I began a car-free lifestyle. At the time I had a hybrid bike from Target. It got me around but the bike was not properly built and parts broke quickly. After my seat got stolen and I taco’d a wheel I was forced to let the bike go. I went to the thrift store bought a $20 Schwinn road bike. I got it tuned up and loved it. A month later it got stolen and I was heart-broken. A kind person gave me a bike for free after hearing my stolen bike story and I finally had a nice commuter friendly bike – complete with a rear rack and panniers – that I rode for a long time.
Though I was slowly learning more about biking and Minneapolis’ shops, events and resources, I was still strictly a commuter. I rarely rode for fun and ultimately I considered biking a chore that was necessary due to my lack of a motorized vehicle. I had no interest diving further into the culture and community of bicycling. All that changed one winter day. A good friend of mine worked at the non-profit shop Cycles for Change (formerly Sibley Bike Depot) he let me try out his fixed gear bicycle. A bunch of my friends had jumped onto the fixed gear trend but I generally thought they were impractical and dangerous. However, that winter day that I jumped on I found that the fixed gear allowed me to feel more in control of the bike on the icy Minnesota streets. Even more importantly I found that riding a fixed gear was a lot of fun. For the first time since I was a kid I felt like I could bike for more than just chore of getting to work and school.
My friend from Cycles for Change helped me to begin the process of getting my own fixed gear bike for as little money as possible. I bought an old Schwinn Le Tour frame and gave my bike savvy friend $100 dollars to be my personal shopper at the annual Twin Cities Bike Swap in Blaine. He got everything I needed and helped me build my own fixed gear bike designed to be exactly what I wanted. I finally felt like my bike was specifically meant for me and I started to ride my bike simply because it was fun. Before I knew it I was riding constantly and feeling better and more confident with each ride. I even started to attend bike events like alley cat races all the while more and more people who were also becoming involved in the bike culture of Minneapolis.
The bike my friend built for me at Cycles for Change.
My first bike-camping/ off-road experience.
As I evolved as a bicyclist I learned how to use Minneapolis’ remarkable resources and opportunities for bicycling. I regularly use the Midtown Greenway to get across town or out to Hopkins and St. Louis park. I find bike lanes and bike boulevards that have been regularly popping up all over the city as they are added or repainted. My job in Saint Paul has resulted in my regular use of the Lake Street bridge that connects the Twin Cities. The bridge was a big part of Bike Walk Twin Citie’s plan to use the federal grant money. Bike lanes and bike signs were installed throughout Marshall Avenue. A sidewalk was added and the speed limit for cars was reduced. The project resulted in an increase of nearly 40% of bicyclists and pedestrians using the bridge.
Lake Street/ Marshall Ave Bridge
Signs visible from Lake Street/Marshall Avenue Bridge
Ultimately, it’s become clear that funding for bike and walking infrastructure played an important role in the positive development of this city and in my own development as a bicyclist. Minneapolis was deemed Bicycle Magazine’s #1 bike friendly city in 2011, has bragging rights to the country’s first urban single-track mountain bike trail system, hosts the largest bike-sharing program in the country (https://www.niceridemn.org), and holds several titles and top-ten spots as one of America’s healthiest cities. I never could have predicted that 5 years after my car accident I’d be working at a bike shop, participating in races, commuting from Minneapolis to St. Paul daily, and going on bike camping trips 40 to 50 miles away. Minneapolis is an amazing city for bikes and bicyclists. A lot of the credit goes to the cyclists that have worked hard to create a fun and supportive community. However, it’s difficult to imagine making so much progress without the infrastructure initiatives and funding that opened the doors for development and growth as a cycling community.
Bicycles, Art, Food, Coffee, Beer! (Can I live at Artcrank?)
This past Saturday Minneapolis was host to yet another remarkable collaboration of creativity, bicycling and community involvement. Hundreds flocked to celebrate bicycle culture at one of my favorite Minneapolis events, ARTCRANK! Local artists, organizations, businesses, musicians and bike enthusiasts came together for an unforgettable night.
The number of bikes parked at the bike valet was crazy!
The event began here in the city in 2007 in an effort to grow and support community through creativity and the arts. Local artists were called to create bike inspired designs that could be transformed into a poster of which prints could be sold for an affordable price. Proceeds of the event go to a Cause Partner that promotes, bicycling, community, art, or just strives to make the world a better place. Since then the event expanded all over the U.S. and to London.
Sean liked this one, since it featured a skeleton.
The Artcrank crowd
In Minneapolis this year the event took place in the Warehouse District at Traffic Zone Gallery. Widmer Brothers provided over 20 kegs of craft beer and exclusive ARTCRANK pint glasses were sold to those who got there early. Clif Bar and One On One Bike provided free valet parking for people who rode to the event. Minneapolis food trucks were outside delivering some of the most delicious food in the city, and a life-size paper bicycle could be seen at the beginning of the gallery. Music was provided by the Current and kids even got in on part of the action at the family pre-party. This year’s ARTCRANK Cause Partner was Springboard for the Arts’ Artists Access To Healthcare Program. Thanks to all the support from the aforementioned businesses, organizations and the hundreds of attendees, Artcrank was able to raise over $3000.
Sean and I from Varsity Bike & Transit were eager attendees. We partook in both the affordable craft beer from Widmer Brothers and we filled our bellies with food from the various Minneapolis food trucks (I ate red curry tacos, AMAZING). I circled the gallery space several times noticing new posters each time and admiring the life size paper bicycle made by Neenah Paper. I chatted with a number of people that I recognized from various aspects of the bicycle community and stood in awe of the sheer number of bikes parked in the bike valet. An unexpected highlight was a spontaneous artistic creation (made with the help of a number of little ones) out of the paper cases in which the Artcrank pint glasses were shipped.
This life-sized paper bike sculpture, made by Neenah Paper, was one of the highlights of the show.
This Twins themed poster was one of our faves. Who knew Minnie and Paul could Trackstand?
So Artcrank recap? A place where you can hang out with a diverse range of bike people, you can buy affordable original art, listen to free live music, drink bottomless craft beer for $5, and help raise money for a good cause.
Why can’t Artcrank happen every weekend!? Oh well, until next year!
P.S. If you missed the opening night party, you can still check out the posters at Traffic Zone Gallery until May 12th. Check out the Minneapolis Artcrank site for more info!
I started using internal geared hubs for two separate reasons: In the winter when the deraileurs would freeze and the free hub body would spin in the cold. The another impetus for making my bike into a multi speed bike was my knees were beginning to hurt from riding a single speed. I needed just one more gear for starting and up hills but I did not want to change the style of the bike I was riding. Therefore I added the SRAM 2 speed kickback hub to my single speed and keep the fast fun feeling of that bike with two speeds. People have asked me about the energy loss with the internal gears. I have never noticed a difference. (Although Some days I might lie and say the hub is what is slowing me down.) Between personal energy level, cargo, wind and road conditions much more energy is lost than the difference in mechanical shifting systems. Here is a link that talks about all the pluses and minuses of the systems.
2 speed hubs:
I have used the SRAM 2 speed kickback for almost a year. I’ll admit that I can’t always predict when I can shift it, but it works the first time 90% of the time. The gear ratio is perfect for The Twin Cities hills. It is a 138% gear change up. I have a 46 tooth front and a 22 rear cog. This is about a 2.1 for starts and up hills and a 2.9 for cruising.
There’s also a SRAM 2 speed automatic shifting hub that uses cadence to switch gears. I haven’t heard any reports about this hub.
3 speed hubs
I used the SRAM 3 speed coaster brake on my winter bike. 3 speeds are enough in Minneapolis, but if you are willing to have a shifter, I would like more gears. It was sometimes nice having the coaster brake while riding in the snow and ice but I prefer to be able to pedal backwards.
The Sturmey Archer 3 speed fixed hub has gotten good reviews from three people I have talked to who own one. The shifting is good, with the only complaint being that there is some play in the chain, especially when braking fixed.
7/8/11 Shimano Nexus and Alfine
I currently ride a bike with a 8 speed Nexus and another with the Alfine. The Alfine is better shifting, lighter and more refined than the Nexus. Both work very well with near zero maintenance. I pulled apart my Alfine after 3 years of winter use and it was perfect inside. A friend, Jason, has been riding a 7 speed Nexus for a dozen years. It has never been opened and still works great. I have heard the 11 speed works just like the 8 speed Alfine, but with a third more gear range. I am contemplating installing one on the Bakfiet cargo bike, where I actually use all the gears and sometimes want more.
Rohloff 14 speed
I have once ridden a Rohloff Speedhub and really liked it. From all reports it is extremely good but you pay for it.
I believe and have experienced that all the brands make very good products in this category. Some specific hubs might be better than other for a particular use.
I do not think that everyone is going to be riding an internal geared bike soon but I firmly believe they have many uses now. I would include winter riding and the ability to add it to an existing fixed or single speed bike without a derailleur hanger to be my biggest reasons. The ability of the bike to have a chain guard is great for commuting to dramatically decrease to chance of catching your pants, skirt and getting grease on you. The simplicity and low maintenance of the systems also is another huge benefit.
A dedicated winter bike, is oftentimes an older bike with used or budget parts cobbled together to save your more precious summer ride from the grit, grime, water, and salt that inevitably comes with Minnesota winters. Winter commuting is notoriously hard on bicycle parts: chains and cables rust and corrode, sand wears away brake pads and braking surfaces quicker, and pivots on brakes and derailleurs can stick and eventually seize. Funny thing then, that my winter ride this year revolves around a few new pieces of kit purchased solely with the intent of using and abusing them through the winter.
Kevin's bike is ready to take on pretty much anything winter can throw at it.
Oddly enough, my winter bike started to take form in the middle of summer when a rep from NuVinci stopped by the shop with a demo bike sporting their new N360 hub. The N360 is an internally geared hub with no set indexed shift points. This continuously variable transmission allows smooth, skip-free shifting at any point during your ride. Unlike a traditional derailleur based drive train, or a more standard internally geared hub, the N360 is capable of shifting while pedaling at full bore, at a complete standstill, or anywhere in between. Since there are no fixed shift points you’re never forced to decide between a gearing that feels just too high and one that is too low–a simple adjustment to the grip shifter allows you to fine tune your gearing to your liking at any point during your ride. You can make it as hard or easy as you like between the set high and low point with a single twist grip shifter.
Kevin's NuVinci equipped rear wheel
A test ride on the demo bike had me grinning ear to ear; no matter how hard I tried I could not get the bike to skip or miss a shift, and the ability to shift while cranking with all my might or at a standstill was nearly dumbfounding. Struggling to start at a stoplight, or in the middle of a snowbank, because I didn’t downshift could be a thing of the past! Being an internally geared hub, the system eliminates the external moving parts of a traditional bicycle drive train and encases all the bits within the sealed hub which minimizes the effects of external variables, such as winter road slop, on the bicycles’ ability to shift. Many people, in the past myself included, switch to a single speed setup in the winter for the same reason–less moving parts means less maintenance–at the expense of being able to change gears. The seed was planted, but it took a couple of months for it to finally sprout.
Fast forward to October and with the air starting to cool the need to replace last years now dead winter beater took hold. I had already convinced myself that the N360 was going to be both the literal and figurative hub that the new bike would be built around. Like a bicycle hub needs a rim to frame itself with before it can be used, this wheel now needed a frame. Keeping in mind the primary use would be as a winter bike, I had little desire to drop a big chunk of dough on a fancy new frame, but at the same time I wanted some versatility that any old frame wouldn’t necessarily provide.
A dedicated winter bike not only saves your summer equipment from premature wear, but usually will sport a few other modifications that can make winter riding not only safer, but more enjoyable for the rider. Fenders of some sort tend to be standard fare, and studded tires are an increasingly popular way to increase traction and safety. However, neither of these items fall under the “one size fits all” category, since not all frames have the clearance for knobby or studded tires or full fenders. While most bikes can fit at least a dirtboard off the seat post, a full bolt-on fender set provides significantly better coverage, but does require eyelets on the frame to mount to. You’ll need even more clearance if you wish to run both a studded tire and a fender.
On a whim I came across the Origin8 cyclocross frame, the 700CX, in a catalogue. The 700CX falls under the newly emerging “monster cross” family of frame sets–that is, a taking the already increased tire clearance of a cyclocross frame and making even more room for even bigger tires. While not necessarily race-bred machines, they tend to be geared more towards off-road touring and commuting. Origin8 claims you can fit a 2.1” tire in this frame–essentially putting a mountain bike tire on your road bike. All of that tire clearance would make for oodles of fender and studded tire clearance for my purpose. The frame has fender and rack mounts, and allows full length cable housing all of which make it an ideal poor weather commuter. All this for $200, around $100 less than the closest competitor, made it an easy choice.
The 700CX frame has ample clearance for a studded tire and full fenders
The bike has been rideable for about two months now, and other than a small issue with the shifter cable that has since been rectified with the help of NuVinci, the bike has performed admirably. Shifting still works as well as day one, and I’ve found is not nearly as dependant on cable tension as a standard derailleur is (good thing!). The hub does exhibit a small amount of drag but that tends to be par for the course with any internally geared hub–in this case the drag is not significant enough to notice while pedaling, and seems to have gotten better as the miles rolled by. The frame has proven solid so far. (Although, I would hope so after only 2 months!) and my only concern at this point is how the removable cable guides will fare the winter; I foresee the possibility the removable cable guides no longer being removable after a few rain/snow/ice storms.
In true winter bike fashion, most of the rest of the parts on the bike came out of the parts bin here at home. Notably, I will be running a Nokian Hakkapelitta 700×35 tire up front for the third winter in a row. The longevity of carbide tipped studs are completely worth the extra $$ up front : a vanilla steel studded tire lasted <1 season before I went carbide and I haven’t looked back since. In the rear I am trying something new with the Continental TopContact Winter tire. It is a non-studded winter compound tire designed to provide increased traction without the weight penalty of studs. In the limited snow we’ve had so far, it seems to be a happy medium between a plain slick tire and a knobby/studded tire. I’m happy it rolls as smooth as a regular tire on pavement and being in the rear I am not as concerned with absolute traction like I am in the front. SKS gets the dirty job with their super-sized Chromoplastic fenders. I’ve had good luck with SKS’ Raceblade fenders in the past and the 45mm wide Chromoplastic fenders leave ample snow clearance even with the studded tire mounted. The rear fender does rattle where it connects to the seat stays but some hockey or athletic tape would probably dampen the noise.
Well this ended up being longer than expected. If you made it this far thanks for sticking around and I hope you enjoyed yourself and maybe even learned something along the way. I hope to give a long term review in the spring if there is interest!
Winter has just gifted Minneapolis with its first sizable dusting of lovely snow. As nice as it looks when it’s fresh, it does have a habit of making the bicyclist’s commute a bit of a dodgy prospect. While the roads may be rutted and covered in little patches of ice, it’s still totally possible to commute through it with confidence and a little bit of speed. When it comes to riding in this particular excitement, it’s important to have the proper tools for the job. A decent set of goggles goes a long way, and a gaiter helps keep the cold out. Arguably the most important weapon in your winter commuting arsenal is going to be your favorite winter bicycle.
The Surly in all its glory.
On that note I’d like everyone to… Meet The Steamroller:
The Surly Steamroller frame is definitely a go to frame and fork set-up for the snowy weather. The frame and fork are specifically designed to accommodate larger treaded or studded tires, while still being able to utilize a front brake for all that safety. I roll on a 700 x 32 Vittoria Randonneur as my rear tire and a 700 x 40 Schwalbe Marathon studded tire in the front. The Marathon is a new addition and I have been very impressed with its ability to blend function on clear streets with a high level of control and grip in the really nasty bike lane ruts. My tires are mounted on weinman rims laced to sealed bearing formula hubs. I also utilize a sealed bearing bottom bracket to keep my important bits from seizing up or wearing out. Sealed bearing components aren’t necessary for winter riding, but they do make a big difference in limiting repair and replacement costs. I set up my ride with flipped mustache bars to get myself in a real comfortable body position that also gives me a great sense of steering control regardless of the terrain. I roll with a Tektro front brake, which is going to make all the fixed gear elitists shudder, but nothing makes me feel safer, especially on snowy streets when my fixed braking may not give me the stopping speed I need. A front brake is not only the law, but also a very very good idea to keep you from skidding right out into traffic.
A Schwalbe Marathon Winter helps Sam keep the rubber side down
Along the safety line of gear I rock at least four or five reflectors, as well as a full complement of six lights. Three lights in front, and three in back keep me visible even in the heaviest of snow falls. I also run lights in my spokes to give me that added side-on visibility.
Sam's rear light/reflector array
The newest addition to the steed was the front rack which I have been very impressed with. Not having to carry quite so much on my back has been a pleasure as I navigate the city streets. My particular winter set-up isn’t for everyone. Some people are going to prefer the added comfort of riding two studded tires instead of just the one, and some people ride a twenty six inch bike to get them a little lower center of gravity. Whatever set-up is going to give you the most confidence riding in poor conditions is always the way to go. Remember, Riding in the winter is a totally realistic means of commuting no matter what the weather throws at us. We are Minnesotan.
I’ve been riding my bike in the winter for more than 20 years. I’ve ridden in Minneapolis, Upstate New York, New York City and Vail, Colorado. Vail was the most challenging to ride through the winter, because of the large amounts of snow and number of hills/mountains to climb. Last year in Minneapolis was one of the harder years to ride because of the large amounts of snow on top of the already icy rutted street surface, and the cold in January and February. Then it just would not end. It was very disheartening to take off my studded tires in March and then have to put them back on for the glaze ice and numerous snowfalls in March and April. Even after saying that, last year was hard, but I was the most set up for winter riding and knock on wood did not crash a single time.
As for dressing for winter riding, the usual suggestions for any winter activity apply: Dress in layers, no cotton next to the skin, hands, feet and head are the most important and add a windproof layer. The next most important thing is to know yourself and your ride: Are you warm or cold most of the time? How far is your ride? Do you have an easy escape, like the bus or a coffee shop to stop at? I know that on my 6-7 mile commute to work I’ll start off a little cold, but be warm when I get there, so I wear a long underwear shirt with a fleece on top, regular pants, windproof fleece gloves, skate style shoes and a helmet with a liner like a Bern Watts until it get below 20 degrees. Below that, I add goggles, a neck warmer, switch the gloves for Pearl Izumi Lobster Gloves, add a wind/water proof jacket, add long underwear or wind/rain pants and another pair of socks and/or put newspaper plastic bags over my socks before I put my shoes on. I know now that I am warmer than the average person and leave from work or home which is warmer than many other places in the winter, so use this as a guideline knowing yourself. I am also very lucky because I ride through Uptown, Downtown to Dinkytown so I have many places to stop if needed or buses to jump on if there is an emergency. I can also show up to work looking like I rode and it is no problem, even cool. My bag of tricks for staying warm consists of goggles, the above mentioned plastic bags over the socks, toe clip covers that stop the wind on your toes and hand or feet warmers.
My Winter Kit
When riding on packed snow or ice you have to change your riding technique to keep control and stay upright. To avoid the wheels sliding out from under you, stay much more upright on the bike and try to turn with your handlebars versus the normal leaning of the bike to turn. This means you need to slow down more before turns. My commute of 20-30 minutes in summer turns into a 30-45 minute commute in the winter, depending on how much fresh snow there is. Fresh snow will be the factor that slows you down the most, the more there is, the slower you will go and if you are riding on streets with cars it can be challenging to get around all the slow moving traffic. Generally if there is fresh snow I try to take bike paths to avoid the car traffic and the sticky piles of snow the cars have pushed up. If you have to ride on the streets, it’s always a difficult decision whether to ride on the more traveled main streets where the road condition is better, but car traffic higher, or to ride on the side streets where the roads can be in awful shape and very skinny, but where you’ll battle fewer cars.
My Winter Bike
Currently my winter bike is a 17″ Marin Hamilton 29er that I put a Shimano Alfine 8 speed hub on the rear. I ride a smaller bike with a little longer stem and setback seat post so it’s easy to jump off if needed. I love the internal geared hub. It’s great to have a range of gears for fresh snow, there’s less maintenance and the gears don’t get frozen up. I’ve ridden with standard derailleur drive trains and single speed setups, but I have had the freewheel or cassette body mechanisms freeze up, and then your rear gears just spin with no engagement to the wheel. I’ve also had the rear derailleur itself freeze up, so I couldn’t change gears. Both of these problem have only happened when it was below 15 degrees or so. Other than the drive train, I don’t believe you need to have any other concerns about your components. As far as brakes, if you are used to a certain style they will work, just not quite as well. My bike has v-brakes which work just fine, I have used cantilever and caliper brakes as well, they do not work as well, but I was used to them and knew my bike and how far I needed to stop. I’m sure disc brakes would work great, but I worry about all the extra moving parts of the caliper, how close it is the the salt laden street and how they could freeze up. Currently the brakes are the part that corrodes the most quickly, after the chain of course.
My "Custom" Toe Covers
The only special feature on my bike are the toe clip covers that I made out of two old water bottles. I cut the water bottle top off, wrapped it around the toe clip and attached it with zip ties. This keeps my feet much warmer, because of the wind protection and my shoes stay much cleaner and dryer. I like toe clips, because they keep my feet on the pedals, which I’ve had issues with, either from hitting a patch off ice and the bike slides one way and my foot the other, or just the interface between a slippery, snow covered shoe sole and an icy cold pedal. That having been said pedal choice comes down to personal preference. For instance, some people at the shop don’t like toe clips, because they feel it’s harder to get out of them in an emergency and that they don’t get big enough for wearing boots.
The final and most important bicycle component is tires. I’ve ridden with wide 26×2.1-2.3″ mountain bike tires, 26″ hand made and production made studded tires, 700c knobby tires and 700c studded tires. They’ve all worked for me over the years, but I believe the 700c studded tire is the best option, and they’re what I use now. When I first started winter riding, I used regular mountain bike tires that I kept inflated at a fairly low 25-35psi, and then I made my own studded tire with screws driven through the tread, and when production studded tire became more widely available, I used them. The only thing I did not like about using 26″ mountain bike tires, is that they seemed to compress the snow, especially in the rear and then you floated along this layer of snow sort of like snowboarding. I can only attribute a couple of crashes to this, but it always freaked me out a little bit. I love the feeling of floating on a snowboard, but on a bike I like to be very connected to the street. The one advantage of the wider tires is that they perform better in the ruts and bumps that can be formed in the ice or hard pack, especially on the side streets. In light ice and snow winters or early season I have ridden with 700c knobby tires like the Kenda Kwick 700x30c tire. It’s one of the few knobby tires that will fit on most road bikes with caliper brakes. I reduce the pressure to 60psi, watch out for big bumps and ice and I’ve only had a couple of crashes while using it. My most successful tires have been 700c studded tires. I ride a larger 38-42c with 200+ studs in the front for turning and braking traction and a skinner 35c with 100+ studs in the rear for cutting through the snow easier and getting good contact with the street or ice. This wide front skinny rear also works with 26″ tires. I have tried Innova and Kenda Klondike studded tires in the past and now I am running a Schwalbe front with a Nokian rear. They’ve all performed well, but as already stated, I did not crash last year with my current tire combo. I would like to try the Nokian Hakkapeliitta A10 700×30/32c 72 stud tire on my road bike for the early/late season with less snow and ice. This is the only studded tire I’ve found that will work with a road bike and caliper brakes. Others at the store have used them and say they are much easier rolling than any other studded tire and still provide good grip.
Some of our studded tire selection
Maintenance in the winter is a tough deal. The best thing to do for your bike is to leave it outside as much as possible to avoid the freeze thaw cycle that leads to more corrosion and damage. The chain is the most important component to keep lubed, but you can expect to replace the chain and rear gears after a winter of riding. The brakes and any other thing made out of unfinished steel will have corrosion issues unless you are very obsessive and do a lot of lubing and cleaning. After the winter ends and before you put away your bike is the best time to try and halt the damage being done to your bike. If you just put it away dirty and salty, it will continue to get worse and worse all spring summer and fall long.
Lastly, but just as important is lighting in the winter. The sun sets earlier so you need lights sooner, it seems darker and drivers have more going on, so you need more ways to show them where you are. I always have at least one rear light and often two, one on the bike and one on my bag. I’ve used the Planet bike Super Flash and the PDW Dangerzone, both are very bright. For the front I have used the Blackburn Flea and the NiteRider MiNewt both of which are rechargeable, and can light up in front of you enough to see. My favorite lights for being seen are lights on the wheels, they are very visible when you are riding because the movement. You can get lights that go on your valve stems, or my favorite–the Nite Ize Spoke Disco lights that go in the spokes. I like them because the disco model changes colors every few seconds. I’ve also wrapped my frame in a BikeGlow fiber light that lights up the frame to be more visible. I have not tried helmet lights in the front or rear, but I probably should, because the higher the light is the easier it is to be seen.
I love winter riding, maybe not as much as a perfect fall day, but much better than a cold rainy spring or fall day, riding the bus, walking across a wind swept bridge, or sitting on a frozen car seat. When I switch from the winter bike to any other bike it’s a sign of spring and I can start zipping around the city faster and with a wind in my hair that I actually want.