Last week’s Winter Cycling Congress filled my schedule so tightly that I didn’t have a chance to share these photos closer to the time I took them. As for why I’m not sharing them until Thursday of this week? Well, I’ve had a cold, I swear! And having a cold definitely makes it way too difficult to edit and upload photos onto the internet. Or something like that.
Anyways, here are photos from the blizzard and the next day’s bike parade. Biking in fresh snow with a bunch of strangers who love biking was a really great time. So was hearing all sorts of intelligent, thoughtful people talk about issues around bicycle equity, encouragement, and engineering. While we may have a long ways to go when it comes to normalizing and promoting biking, it heartens me to know we have so many great minds working on these issues.
When I was trying to figure out winter biking, I found that my own emotional assessment of the situation was my biggest barrier. Sure, I probably wouldn’t fall under the tire of a semi-truck as it was driving by, but I was afraid that I would. Sure, I probably wouldn’t slip and slide off a bridge, but I felt like that was a real risk. I was just plain scared, and it took me a few winters of false starts, lots of encouragement, and a bunch of trial-and-error to get over that fear.
In the winter cycling survey, I asked about emotional barriers to winter biking. I wanted to know about those internal barriers. What emotions get in the way for people who are trying to figure out winter biking? The answers spoke mostly of fear: fear of getting stuck outside in excessive cold, fear of aggressive drivers, fear of falling on unplowed or icy streets, fear of being attacked in the dark. But there were other emotion-based barriers too. Here are a few:
What’s your biggest emotional barrier to winter cycling?
“The inevitably of death.”
“Depression. When I’m depressed, it makes it difficult to get on my bike in the first place. When I’m not on my bike too long, I get more depressed. It’s a vicious cycle when it happens.”
“Fear, mostly. Practical fears of getting hurt.”
“I definitely get freaked out by big, slushy snow chunks/ruts. I don’t feel very stable biking through those, and feel very nervous about falling into traffic.”
“Only emotional barrier for me is drivers. People drive worse than usual in winter, and the darkness is a factor. I worry about getting hit more when it’s dark during my commute.”
“After the first few rides in the winter on my bike, I don’t feel fear or uncertainty about biking in the snow. Mostly just need to overcome the sloth and get my ass on the saddle.”
“It’s easy to get discouraged/scared when biking in the dark on rough terrain, but your own attitude has a huge effect on how your ride goes, so I try to power through.”
“Fear. Cars slide more on ice and are more unpredictable in bad weather, cyclists fall more easily, and it gets dark before I leave work, so there’s more of a fear of crime as well as the temperature dropping dramatically.”
“The darkness doesn’t worry me much. If it’s cold and dark for riding, people are less likely to be outside to bother you on your bike. Criminals don’t want to be cold too.”
“More just a psychological barrier to not want to be out in the cold.”
“There’s definitely a degree of fear to be overcome when I glance out the window and see a wall of white fluff raining down, but it’s tinged with enough excitement at the prospect of triumphing over the weather for the fear to be blocked out by excitement.”
“General winter sadness. Nothing bike-related.”
“That my fingers and toes will get too cold and drivers will act aggressively towards me.”
Many of us face fear, laziness, seasonal depression, or other emotions that can prevent us from riding our bikes in the winter. I like talking about it, because it means we’re all in this together, experiencing many of the same barriers. There are a lot of puzzle pieces to figure out. While winter biking seems fairly easy peasy to me now, it took me a long, long time to get here. I appreciated all the willingness to share fears, and I was inspired by the ways that people overcome their fears. If we look at how folks manage to brave winter biking even when they’re afraid, we can get some great insight for promoting winter biking for everyone.
How do you overcome emotional barriers to winter biking?
“I plan outings and commutes with friends. Nothing works better than peer pressure to overcome an obstacle. Nothing makes you forget the discomfort of a cold start than a warm conversation.”
“Prepare everything the night before, tell myself I am going to ride into work.”
“Get to sleep on time. Eat right. See people. Stay on my bike even when it sucks.”
“Self-care and giving myself a lot of time to get where I’m going. Additionally I find that if I don’t bike my winter blues worsen.”
“Positive self-talk (you got this!), stubbornness, reminding myself that riding in all conditions will make me a better biker, being able to share experiences through groups like Grease Rag.”
“I suck it up! I know I that biking is the fastest way for me to get where I need to go, so I just do it.”
“After a winter of biking, I realized I was much warmer when I was biking than when driving — when you drive you get into a cold car and just sit there, so you’re cold until the car finally warms up. I think it also helps my metabolism a little to stay warmer when I am at work.”
“Reminding myself how great I feel physically after biking and the sense of accomplishment I feel after commuting by bike.”
“Since my main barrier is not wanting to look/feel/smell gross, I bring a change of clothes for base layers, which seems to work well enough.”
“I wake up early before my shifts and sip tea while mentally preparing myself for the challenge. Lots of deep breaths, talking to myself, and playing pump up music.”
“I white-knuckle it. Maybe as the winter goes on I’ll become more comfortable.”
“I remind myself how much more confident and positive I feel after biking to or from work. The more days I bike in the snow or cold the easier and more routine it becomes. Last year I said I wouldn’t bike in temperatures less than 10 degrees. This year I plan to bike unless the windchill is too extreme or there is a major ice storm. I couldn’t have that attitude today if I didn’t bike through last season with a positive experience.”
“I do my goofy warm-up dance to warm my extremities. When drivers drive too close or honk at me, I either 1. flip them off 2. take a deep breath and keep doing my thing or 3. talk to them in my head (Yo! You’re gonna get there before I do! Chill your knickers bro!).”
“Make a rule and stick to it. I decide beforehand what I’m willing to do, then if the conditions meet what I’ve set out, I go.”
“Do it anyway; try to think about times I’ve really enjoyed it – the feel of riding over packed snow; the quiet winter outdoors, the beauty of fresh snowfall; the belief I’m a badass.”
“Making commuting a part of my routine has helped me overcome barriers, and in particular, not allowing anger to get in the way of a good bike ride. When others are aggressive, honking, yelling, I smile and wave like they are trying to get the attention of an old friend and it completely disarms them.”
“Focus on the FUN! It’s great being outside in winter, because who wants to be cooped up inside 5 months of the year?”
“Make biking the default by not paying for a monthly parking or transit pass, and building a routine. This means winter biking is cheaper and still beats all of the alternatives: 1) bus is slower and less reliable 2) driving and parking is more stressful and less convenient 3) walking takes too long. Also having something to look forward to by having an interesting podcast to listen to.”
“By trying it and knowing my limitations. Regular meditation helps with all of my anxieties including winter biking anxieties.”
“To overcome my emotional barriers to winter biking, I first allowed myself to use alternate forms of transportation when I didn’t feel comfortable biking. Then, I decided to go on a bike ride that wasn’t commute-based so that I could take my time and bike on a variety of roads, including streets that were well-plowed and salted but with more traffic, and streets that were less well-plowed and more icy but with less traffic. In a short amount of time I discovered that neither condition was as difficult as I expected it to be, and now I treat winter biking essentially as I would treat a typical commute.”
“Remind myself of my commitment to my city, my planet, and myself.”
There you have it: crowd-sourced wisdom for overcoming emotional barriers to winter biking. I think we can use this information to promote winter biking among folks who don’t already do it. I’ll be presenting these results and more at the Winter Cycling Congress tomorrow. We’re going to workshop ideas for increasing winter ridership, and you can bet I’ll write about it here. Stay tuned.
Next week, I’m presenting at the Winter Cycling Congress. I’ll be talking about self-efficacy and some of the things that encourage people to get started biking, both in general and in the winter. A few weeks ago, I put together a survey to get a little more perspective on how people think about winter biking. I wanted to hear stories. What barriers did folks have to overcome to start winter biking? How exactly did they make that leap? Did they figure it out on their own, or did others help them?
I was seriously blown away by how many people were willing to talk about their experiences. In just 24 hours, the survey received over 350 responses. That means I’ve got a ton of snippets and stories to share. I’ll be sharing my favorite responses to each question over the next week. For this first one, let’s explore how people got started winter biking.
How did you get started winter biking?
“It was gradual. I’ve biked in Minneapolis for 4 years now. The first two years, I stopped biking in the winter due to the cold. Last year I kept biking in the cold but was afraid of falling so I would only ride when the roads were clear and didn’t dress properly so I was often cold. This year I got studded tires, a nice warm hat, and dressed better so now nothing can stop me!”
“I thought I would stop bike commuting when it got cold, and I just never stopped.”
“When relatively newish to biking, I was making friends in the bike crowd and social activities were bike-centric, so there was impetus to keep it up during the cold months. I fortunately had a close friend who brought me into cycling who was there to answer questions and make recommendations about equipment and clothes. His fiancé, who I was also quite close to, was new to biking as well, so we had one another for encouragement and support. We were attending a lot of social events together, so at least initially there was lot of hand holding. It helped a lot that the first winter I rode was pretty mild.”
“Biking is too much fun to not ride in the winter.”
“Saw my brother had gotten back in shape and was looking good after bike commuting, and thought I should do the same after letting myself go a bit. Immediately, I was hooked by the fresh air and exercise, and very soon found a great community of bikers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.”
“I figured it out on my own, through trial and error. Lots of error.”
“Commuting to work. Then winter happened.”
“I loved how biking in the summer made me feel and wanted to continue somehow. I like how it bridges the gap between seasons of nice weather biking and xc skiing season. I really dont care for the gym so it works to have an outdoor activity all year.”
“I just didn’t want to stop biking”
“Resented the encroachment of winter on my biking season each year, and gradually push the biking season later and later, until we had a relatively mild winter a few years ago, and I finally figured out how to bike through the winter. It was a lot easier than I imagined!”
“My car broke down just before a blizzard in February 1995. I had to get from northeast Minneapolis to Stadium Village to beat a publication deadline for my comic strip. The blizzard was in full swing. I was terrified when I left home in blowing snow, riding icy roads; but I was all smiles when I arrived. It was a wonderful experience. I didn’t bother getting the car repaired, and I never got another one. Twenty winters later, I have no regrets.”
“I didn’t want to stop riding so I threw on a ton of clothes and gave it a shot.”
I see you out there doing your thing. You’re just biking along, but I see what you’re doing. I just want to tell you that I like it.
I like it when you’re first getting your balance riding around town in the heart of summer: that old bike you’ve had since freshman year all tuned up for the first time, your helmet strapped on tight, your smile a little tense with anticipation. You take a loop around the lakes and that burn in your legs feels bad, but good, because you know you need the exercise. I like it that you’re biking slow and that you’re figuring this shit out.
When you’re unsure of yourself, trying something new, that’s okay. You don’t have to pretend that you have your shit together. Your newness, excitement, anticipation, and anxiety are all part of you. They’re visible to other people, including that one person over there. That person who’s been thinking about giving biking a try. Seeing you do it, even though it’s clear you don’t do it a lot, makes it seem like anyone could. You’re not just doing this for you, you’re doing it for them too.
I like it when you ride your bike in fancy clothes: your business suit rustling in the wind, your flowing dress trailing behind you. I like that you don’t listen to those people who say you can only bike in athletic clothes. You’re going to work at your office, or you’re on your way to a wedding in 5-inch heels. You don’t want to change when you get there, so you’re wearing your clothes. You believe biking is a normal thing to do, so you wear what you want.
When you’re not fitting in to that little box of what people think bikers look like, you’re throwing convention to the wind. You’re making it clear that you’re going to do whatever the fuck you want, and you’re going to do it with style. It doesn’t matter if you get a little windswept on your way, it’ll just give your hair a little more volume. You’re making biking fit into your life, instead of changing your life to accommodate biking.
I like it when you do weird shit with your bike. You’re giving rides to your friend on the back of your longtail bike? You’re biking while your dog runs alongside, tongue flapping? You’re hauling a ping pong table twenty miles on a cargo trailer? You’re biking to work in sub-zero temperatures? You’re decorating your bike with lights and glow sticks and fake flowers and tape and yarn? You’re killing it out there, you weirdo.
When you use your bike to express your individuality, people don’t just see a biker. They see you, whoever you are, in all your glorious you-ness. They see why biking is so fun. They don’t ask why you would ride your bike. What you’re doing looks so fun, the reason is obvious. The joy of it becomes contagious.
I like it when you’re so comfortable with your bike that it becomes part of you. I see you with your beat-up single speed that’s covered in stickers and rust spots. I see how well-loved your messenger bag is, how the butt of your pants is getting worn in the shape of your bike seat. I like that you love biking and you’re not afraid to show it.
When you love biking so much, everyone can see it. Your friends and family don’t comment on how much you bike anymore. They comment whenever you don’t bike. Your coworkers see your bike sitting in the office every day and they start to wonder whether they should give bike commuting a try. You don’t have to evangelize. Your love of biking speaks for itself. You, in riding your bike every day, are doing what words never could. You’re showing, not telling. And that’s powerful.
By doing your thing, you’re not just doing something for yourself. You are a billboard. A two-wheeled billboard communicating to everyone else that what you’re doing is possible. You’re an inspiration, to me and everyone else. Keep it up.
Here are some photos of bikers riding the train from St. Paul back to Minneapolis on New Year’s Eve. These folks were the hardy souls who raced A Few Gear’s Eve, an annual alley cat race that happens every New Year’s Eve. I volunteered at a stop and made people take unflattering selfies to earn extra points. All told, it was a pretty fun way to spend the last bit of 2015.