The dry, warmish winter has been difficult, especially around cranky, whining cross-country skiers. The snowshoe people, to their credit, have been quietly resigned. And the snowmobilers have been willing to travel north, largely without protest.
The narrowly focused complainers refuse to acknowledge the many gifts in a grand, golden January. For a time, Lake Harriet was a 336-acre sheet of Zamboni-grade ice skating. Many of us, freed from shoveling snow, had taken up new hobbies and reclaimed rewarding time with family and friends.
And for many winter-averse cyclists — and they are legion, by the way — this winter has been a big, bonus riding season.
This needs to be said. There is an emerging wintertime orthodoxy that assumes that real riders of bikes naturally want to bundle up and pedal off on balloon-tired lunar excursion contraptions. This assumption is wrong. Many committed, charming and completely sane cyclists simply believe that riding a bicycle is a seasonal activity that loses its romance after, say, Thanksgiving.
These are good, decent people, these seasonal bicycle riders. Even if they hibernate in the winter to the dreary stationary machines in basements and gyms, they remain otherwise fit. They are splendid neighbors; they live observed lives; they co-mingle their recyclables; and I know that they are uniformly kind to children, to pets, and to the elderly. They have just had enough close calls on wet leaves in the fall to avoid sheets of ice on a bicycle, and they like to have enough feeling in their fingers to capably shift gears.
But these days, in our grand, golden winter — they’ve come back outside! The cold remains a problem. But lured by a landscape that looked almost autumnal, and inspired by normal winter restlessness, the hibernating cycling crowd had emerged from its basements, hungry for some rides.
You’ve seen them. They were the ones on the clean bikes, riding a bit tentatively on standard-issue tires. Rather than the sleek arctic jump suits, full-face masks, and insulated shoe covers, they’re usually wearing a hodgepodge of duck hunting and skiing garb, pieced together as they clumsily calibrate the winter biker’s balance between windchill and body heat. Some of these riders might — might — have their helmets on, stylishly, over hats with flaps.
Do not, you haughty winter warriors, look down your icy noses at the pods of cyclists on break from hibernation. They are just stealing a few out-of-season rides before returning to their dens. For riding a bicycle in the winter is frankly not, for many of us, a natural act. We figure that if the gods had intended us to ride in January, they would not have invented skiing and skating and ice fishing, diversions that harness the essential, frigid forces of winter and make them fun. The gods also would not have invented Netflix.
This week, the happy horrors of snow, ice and slush began to return in force, and the rightful owners of winter riding, the Thinsulated pros, will have their lanes, paths and streets back. Skiers can take a breath now, but brown was beautiful.
Notable winter bike events for your consideration:
• The venerable and expansive Twin Cities Bike Swap convenes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at the National Sports Center in Blaine. A $5 entry fee goes to support the National Sports Center’s Velodrome. Meanwhile, the Twin Cities Bicycle Club has scheduled its 16th annual TCBC Swap Meet from 1 to 3 p.m. March 30 at VFW Post 425 in Hopkins. Both events are wonderful opportunities to buy, sell or merely browse everything from whole bikes to vintage components, and everything in between.
• Curious about e-bikes? The bike industry wants you to be. A number of manufacturers have scheduled something called the E-bike Challenge March 23-24 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It’s offering chances to test-ride battery-assisted bikes indoors, to see if that’s the thing for you.
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. Reach him at email@example.com. His column appears twice a month. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.com.