By Andy Carlson
Few winters have challenged the meddle of a year-round bicycle commuter quite like this one. While the Polar Vortex has likely forced many riders to reconsider, some hearty souls embrace the discomfort and tackle the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge.
Created by Colorado cyclist Scot Stucky as a way to stay motivated and keep riding throughout the winter, in its second year participation has exploded with more than 400 members from all over the world taking the challenge to ride to work 52 times between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. Riders tally their rides online, so far rolling up more than 43,000 miles this winter.
Riding in the cold and dark, through snow and ice, isn’t easy and staying committed to bike commuting in these conditions can prove challenging, so how do the Icy Bikers maintain their motivation during the winter?
It’s actually practical to bike commute
Recognize that riding in winter conditions is often more efficient than driving. Warming up the car, scraping the windshield, driving defensively in winter conditions is no picnic. On the coldest, snowiest days this year my normally 25 minute, five mile bike commute has taken 45 minutes. Meanwhile it is not uncommon for my co-workers who drive to work to find it takes three times longer than normal to drive to work in the same conditions.
Riding to work also helps me stay in shape and is much cheaper than a gym membership.
Be prepared and establish a routine
I like to get ready the night before so I’m less likely to wimp out in the morning. This includes charging lights, figuring out what to wear based on the forecast (for both the morning and evening rides), and making sure my bike is in good working order for the anticipated conditions. As a precautionary measure I bring and stow away extra gloves and a warmer hat for colder than expected conditions in case they are needed. More than one ride home has been made tolerable by having this extra layer of clothing available.
My normal commute is five miles each way with only one mile on a fairly busy road. During last year’s snow storms the bike lane on this road was relatively clear. This year, it has been very icy and snow-packed. On my ride home, I explored a new route and discovered a trail that was passable on my standard winter commuter bike. Now my route has only a quarter mile of road. Be prepared to adjust your route in poor conditions.
Set a goal
Quite simply, focusing on hitting the Icy Bike challenge of 52 bike commutes last winter was very motivating and kept me going on the days where I would have rather driven. This year, I’m trying to hit the Frozen Toes Challenge level which is 62 days over the six month period and I’m on track to reach this goal. Set a goal that is appropriate and then strive to attain it.
Enjoy the warmer rides, notice your surroundings
Even during this coldest of cold winters, it hasn’t been freezing every day. A week after we hit high temperatures that were below zero, it was 55 degrees for my night ride home from work under a full moon. It was gorgeous out and I took the long way home.
No matter the temperature during my ride to work I try to notice the cars, especially the ones that are backing up at stoplights or in gridlock. I’m always grateful I’m not in that mess!
Rely on others for motivation and encouragement
There’s no better source of motivation than my fellow Icy Bikers. I went to bed one night fully prepared to ride to work the next day. The forecast called for cold temperatures and it had never been more accurate; -11 degrees F was the high that day. I almost drove to work that day, but I checked the Facebook group and saw other Coloradans had already made it in to work that morning. Their comments motivated me and, quite frankly, it was a great ride.
I mean, how awesome is this?!
So come on and join the group via Facebook. Sign up to be an Icy Biker and take the challenge! Ask us questions on the group page, we will share more tips and lessons learned.