Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Winter biking

When you ride your bike in winter, people think you’re a lot tougher than you really are. They don’t realize that you get warm from the exertion: as long as you’re dressed for the cold, your ears are covered and you have good gloves, it’s really not so bad. Though I’ll admit that when the air temperature is in the teens and below, it stabs at my fingertips no matter what gloves or mittens I wear. And when it dips below zero, that’s enough for me to leave the bicycle in the garage.

But I keep finding that I miss my daily bike rides when I don’t get out. Like today, for example, we had a new snowfall, and I have deadlines that make me feel pressed for time. So I got in the car and drove to a different coffee shop in my old neighborhood --because I still needed to get away from the distractions I encounter at home with two teenagers, three cats and a dog, to finish reading a book from which I am taking notes for something I am writing for my quarterly magazine.

I went to the other coffee shop not only because I also like that one, but because I just can’t justify driving the short distance to my local spot. If I’m going to drive, I must go somewhere farther! Now I’m hoping the streets will clear themselves well enough for me to venture out tomorrow -- I especially hate going two days in a row without riding my bike.

It’s not that I’m trying to prove something, it’s just that this coldest winter in seven years has also seemed to me one of the sunniest, and that persistent bright sunshine keeps drawing me out in the afternoons. That and the fact that my home office is located in the basement, with a small north-facing window above my head. Through it I can see the sunshine on my neighbor’s fence and it makes me think about the big south-facing windows at my neighborhood coffee shop -- not to mention its convivial air and the baristas who prepare my latte when they see me rolling up on my bicycle (until I decided to switch to green tea, causing some confusion for a time), and the other regulars whom I enjoy seeing and visiting with.

Sometimes I will encounter other winter bicyclists and we would greet each other as though we were members of the same club, even though we had never met before. I have exchanged winter bicycling tips and routes with some of these, as well as the general comeraderie of people who share the same eccentric pursuits.

At one point I had noticed that my bike was getting harder to pedal, and I wondered if the tires were somehow more sluggish in winter. Then, after a fellow I had talked with about winter bicycling had mentioned the need to clean the gears off, I inspected mine and found them perfectly packed with dirty snow and sand. On a mild day, I rinsed them off with warm water and then re-oiled the chain. It operated so smoothly after that, I almost felt it was too easy!

However, the spilled water at the bottom of the garage flowed under the door, and when the temperature dropped precipitously that night, I found the garage door frozen shut and couldn’t get my bike out for several days! It was, in fact, really too cold for bike riding that week, and at the end of the week I persuaded my teenage son to get the door open for me and soon I was back in business.

Now it is March, sometimes the snowiest month in Minnesota, so who knows how much bicycling I’ll be able to do. But soon enough it will all melt away. I’m looking forward to easier, longer bike rides this spring!

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