Twin Cities' winter bike community feels the pinch

  • Article by: ERIC BEST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2014 - 4:01 PM

With an early ice layer, feet of snow and record low temperatures, winter hasn’t been kind to committed cyclists.

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Chris Graham is an avid winter biker and co-owner of Rock-It bike courier service in Minneapolis.

Photo: AMANDA SNYDER • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Chris Graham is what you’d call a seasoned cyclist.

The co-owner of the bike courier company Rock-It Delivery, Graham bikes to work — and for work. All year round. He also has the unique distinction of winning the Stupor Bowl, one of the nation’s coldest bike races, which takes place in downtown Minneapolis on Super Bowl weekend.

For Graham, biking in winter is a badge of honor and a rush.

“There’s some pride in getting out there and giving it a shot and making it,” he said.

But this winter hasn’t just been difficult for die-hard cyclists, it’s been dangerous. Frigid temperatures, treacherous road conditions and nagging mechanical issues have forced some to do the unthinkable: stow their bikes and hop on a bus or even drive a car.

Trevor Lettman of Minneapolis has been commuting by bike for about nine years. This year, though, he’s opted for his car more often, although he said he feels lazy if he goes three days without riding his bike.

“This winter has been icier and more unpredictable with the extreme cold,” he said, and the volume of snow has made sharing the road with motorists riskier. For Lettman, who has a 7-year-old at home, it’s just not worth it.

Despite the many — and very real — challenges of winter biking, the Twin Cities area is home to a growing community of frosty cyclists.

“We aren’t going to let winter boss us around,” said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “Winter biking is a part of Minnesota’s culture of not hiding when it’s cold.”

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges shares his enthusiasm.

In her first official proclamation in office, she declared Jan. 3 Winter Biking Day. But she didn’t stop there. In her proclamation, she said: “Minneapolis’ winter bicyclists, like Minnesotans in general, are more resilient, more hearty, more ‘Die Hard’ gritty, just plain tougher and much better looking than bicyclists from all those wimpier cities.” (That’s a clear stab at Portland, Ore., Minneapolis’ biking rival.)

For some hard-core riders, the challenges of winter biking only make it more exciting.

Freewheel Bike in Minneapolis describes itself as “a bike shop where riding a bike as often as possible is in each employee’s job description.” But employees get to take it easy in the winter, right?

“No,” said Patrick Soulak, a Freewheel service rider. “Every mechanic rides in.”

Still, he concedes that this winter has presented some unique challenges. Extreme cold can cause a slew of mechanical problems. Bikes need more grease in the winter due to the cold and sloppy weather, sidewalk salt can eat away at chains, and nuts and bolts can corrode and rust onto the frame.

Fawley pointed out that the early snowpack created ice ruts that are much deeper than in previous years and that it’s been more difficult to maintain trails and bike lanes.

Despite these challenges, Minnesota’s bike enthusiasts will always find a way around the weather.

One of Freewheel’s longtime employees, saleswoman Marci Levine, said year-round bike enthusiasts will go out despite very low windchills. Like any other winter activity, Minnesotans are going to embrace it wholeheartedly.

“For some, weather is not an obstacle,” Levine said. “We have people riding regardless of temperature and wind.”

 

Eric Best is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

 

 

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