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Seasoned biker recommends gear for safe winter travel

February 21, 2014

A handful of fools continue to bike on campus all year round and I am one of them.

Because we are fanatics, we are excited to inspire a few others to enjoy pedal power with us in the Arctic tundra.

This is my first year biking 365 in a somewhat urban setting with copious snow. I spent six years in Olympia, Wash., biking every day, but a light dusting hardly lasted a week there before the next gray drizzle. I also used to commute by bike in Osceola, Wis., but hardly had to deal with more than a few cars on wide country roads. Snow, traffic and a high number of campus pedestrians make for some interesting challenges.

I got so much feedback from fellow bikers that I decided write two installments. This week’s focus will be mostly on gear, and two weeks from now I will concentrate on maintenance and changes needed to improve safety and convenience of sustainable transportation on campus.

Until this season, I balked at getting studded tires for my bike. The first week we had wetter snow on the ground, though, the slush filled the grooves of my tires and my bike slid out from under me with traffic behind me on Cascade Avenue.

I immediately went to CrankWorx Bike Shop in town and had Isaac pop on some high-end studded tires with superb traction. He left the tires slightly underinflated for extra surface area contact with the ground. My wheels ran for $110 total, but I have friends that got decent sets for about $45.

The best I have come across, though, is Joel Sehloff’s DIY tires that came to about $25. Joel is a horticultural major, staff for Kinni Outdoor Adventures (KOA) and specifically the guru at the KOA Bike Shop in the Knowles Center. Sehloff used an old tire and quarter inch stainless steel pop-rivets poked through from the inside. He crimped the rivets with an aluminum rivet washer on the outside of the tire. He put in roughly 97 studs set diagonally one inch apart.

“Some of the studs have come off, but for a first try with no prior experience, there are about 70 left in the tires after a few months of riding,” Sehloff said.

That is good-old-fashioned Midwestern resiliency.

A bunch of winter riders wear facemasks. I prefer the full hooded balaclava that only leaves my eyes exposed to the wind. It does triple duty for face, ear and neck protection. It seems like a hat, mask and scarf would be three more things for me to lose while hauling them around between classes.

I have forgone wearing eye protection this winter because I kept fogging up my glasses and then it would immediately freeze on the lenses. It’d be nice to keep the wind, snow glare and precipitation out of my eyes, but I can’t bike blind. Sehloff recommended an anti-fog solution for my glasses, but so far I’ve been too cheap or busy to follow up on that.

Even before my minor accident on Cascade Avenue, my friend Emma Hussey, a recent graduate of UWRF, inspired me to wear my helmet religiously this winter.

Beyond the obvious concern for my safety, she reminded me that helmets paired with a hat or balaclava are the ultimate way to keep your ears warm. I’m embarrassed to admit, I have been more lax about helmet wearing in warm weather. It is incredibly stupid. Helmets save lives and helmet hair is no worse than winter hat hair as it is.

I always have a velcro strap or bandana handy on my bike to keep my right pants cuff out of my chain, but skinny jeans eliminate this need. They’re not the toastiest choice in the winter but my legs are the least of my priority when I’m worried about staying warm on a bike.

“I also try to keep my layers thin, wearing big, bulky jackets and boots doesn’t make riding any easier, it just slows you down,” Hussey said.

It is surprising too, how much heat you can generate on a short commute to school. I would recommend heavy gloves if your hands get easily cold like mine, but the rest of your body should be able to vent if you don’t want to be all sweaty in class.

Fenders are extremely helpful in keeping riders dry and free from rooster tails of snow or muddy water up their backside. A set of clipon bicycle fenders runs between $10 and $30; money well spent.

Both rear and front lights are another necessity this time of year. There are so many affordable LED options these days that last forever. Lights are both effective in alerting vehicles that you’re on the road, as well as lighting the way for navigating ice patches and snow piles in your path.

The amount of gear I described and price tags could be daunting. I was especially able to convince myself that studded tires were a large expense I could afford, because I would be saving so much on gas. I also estimate that I get to sleep in an extra 15 minutes each day because of my swift, door-todoor commute and that is priceless. If you have any questions or want to learn more about gear options and bike safety, please contact me or go to the KOA Bike Shop to learn more.

The KOA Bike Shop is open to students and staff all winter. It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. Its bike rental program is expected to be up and running again after spring break.

“I’ve got a good amount of experience fixing waterlogged hubs and bottom brackets, so bring the winter beaters in,” Sehloff said.

Good luck and ride safe and smart.

Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.