How-To Enjoy Winter Biking

The local news recently reported about winter biking in Chicago.

They even featured video of the fun of “snow” cycling.

As reported by Ben Bradley:

January 8, 2010 (WLS) — A half-foot of snow can be daunting for drivers, a headache for walkers and make a calamity of the commute. But for some cyclists it makes a great ride.

Sure, anyone can do it when the sun is shining and the thermometer reads 80-degrees. But, it takes a special breed to break out the bike during a winter snowstorm.

“Winter in Chicago doesn’t conqueror cyclists, cyclists in Chicago conqueror winter!” said one man while grabbing his bike.

Whenever more than two inches of snow fall in the city, these cycling enthusiasts gather at the appropriately named “Handlebar” tavern. They swap stories from recent rides, some down a bit of liquid courage and then they don their winter wear and hit the streets.

“It’s 50-percent guts and zest and just sheer will and the other 50 percent is gear, knowledge and knowing what you’re doing out here,” said Kevin Monahan, winter biker.

They pass drivers scraping their windshield, try to avoid plows like the plague, and- for the most part- try to stick to the side streets for their three-plus mile winter rides.

“It would be easy to live in a warm climate and bike all winter long,” said one rider.

“One of the great things about biking in the winter is it gets you out of the house and you can avoid cabin fever,” said Dave Glowacz, winter biker.

Some of the winter riders are the same folks you’ll find filling downtown streets during monthly bike rallies called Critical Mass. Their numbers fall with the temperature- but so does the disdain from those who prefer four wheels to two.

“We don’t get heckled as much in the winter. We get more respect. I think they appreciate us for our guts!” said Monahan.

The driving force behind snow cycling is a simple belief: If kids can play in the snow, so should adults.


  1. Doohickie

    Dottie mentioned this report too.

    I loved it. Those guys are hardcore. (Of course in Texas, I don’t have to be so much…)

  2. Iron_Man

    We’ve had snow all week, but I only managed two days of riding. Monday morning it was fresh and this area (SW Missouri) is nuts when snow falls. Tuesday and Wednesday I rode, with Tuesday being -3 F. I actually did get some more respectful treatment too. Thursday and Friday I drove partly because my wife was getting worried. No sense putting her through the wringer too much. Next week should see a return to the 30’s which will feel like the Caribbean. 🙂

  3. crazycommutingcyclist

    This just makes me impatient for my new wheel. I gota to get out in the snow and cold and ride my bike or it just won’t be truly winter!

  4. BluesCat

    (chuckle) Yeah, it was a daunting 46° F at my house in Phoenix this morning. Had to wait until the temp got to around 62° F before I was brave enough to ride. And that bright, blue, cloudless sky is BRUTAL on the eyes, eh?

  5. spiderhead

    Those riders in Chicago are for real. I guess the winters in Northern California are suddenly more bearable…sheesh

  6. Graham Roe

    I did the work commute all last winter, studded tires and all. But I’ve shelved the bike this winter. I loved the crisp snow, but most days it’s the slush and salt. My mountain bike got hosed, brake cables rusted, spokes corroded, chain actually clear out broke in the spring, shocks are finished.

    This year I acknowledged I’m too lazy to do the bike in the winter, it’s too tough to maintain in the freezing temperatures. (Still not driving though, now I’m dawning the backpack and running to work).

    So my question to the rest of the biking crew, what winter maintenance tips do you have? Frequency?


  7. Champs

    I’m actually going to rate Minneapolis streets as nearly unridable this winter. Christmas delivered over a foot of snow, then it rained, and it’s been a deep freeze ever since. It’s all open slippery sheets or frozen-over bumpy ruts – no open, much less dry pavement to speak of.

  8. Ghost Rider

    No snow or real ice here…but there was frost on my bike saddle the other morning. Does that count?

    I haven’t ridden in snow for over 20 years — I remember it as being rather fun, but I didn’t have any important destination…we did it purely for enjoyment.

  9. Ghost Rider

    I should add that my hat goes off to all those winter warriors out there!

  10. Raiyn

    @ Ghost
    Not exactly commute related, but at a party I attended last night I noticed that the birdbath had FROZEN SOLID. So much for St. Pete / Pinellas County being warmer than Tampa.

  11. rick

    Snow commuting is the best. When co-workers complain that it took 45 minutes to go five miles, I can smile. During the recent storm in Columbus, Ohio, I rode through the thick of it. instead of it taking an hour to ride home, it took me an hour and fifteen minutes. The only thing I could complain about was the steep hill that I ended up walking because of the lack of traction.

  12. Ghost Rider

    @Raiyn…I almost got taken out by a patch of ice on my commute to work this morning — ICE!!! My front wheel caught it and I started skipping sideways, but managed to recover somehow (the ice patch really wasn’t all that big). Crazy times we’re having here!

  13. TStevens

    It has been pretty frozen down here in southern Minnesota but the bike commuting has been great. The only rough spot is the path that goes under the interstate; I have to climb the 2 foot snow bank to get to it. Plus now it is warming up my cold weather gear is getting a little hot after 5 minutes, minus 10 is just about perfect for my setup.

  14. Pat Navin

    I just posted a photo of some winter riding aliens who landed in Chicago on my blog. It was 8 degrees (F).

    Winter riding in the Windy City is great fun, but you definitely need the right gear. I ride on smooth tires (700 X 28), but it’s the apparel (and lights) that make the difference.

    Just rode in to my office in gunky slush. Gotta’ make sure and wash the bike (steel frame) down nightly to avoid corrosion. But it only takes 10 minutes or so.

    Have fun out there!

  15. Elizabeth

    @Graham – I think Pat said it well – the need to wash the bike down nightly. Also, I store my bike indoors, so I put it on an indoor/outdoor mat to thaw first. Then keep the chain lubed along with all moving parts/screws. For a couple winters I rode a bike whose brakes froze up; no matter how much lube I applied, the still froze in 20-degree weather and below! By the third winter I found a fix for the deep freeze.

    I must say, I’m impressed that you run to work in the snow. I find the sidewalks to be barely passable. And with a pack on your back!?

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