Winter biking in Minnesota leads to crazy adventures, plenty of frozen toes
If you think 20 degrees is balmy, you know you’re from Minnesota. If you think that’s a good temperature for a bike ride, you know you’re crazy.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – I’m crazy.
I have biked on top of Lake Calhoun, Minnehaha Creek and in temperatures as low as eight degrees. This has gone on for the past two winters, and already I have some interesting adventures under my belt.
Why do I do this? I have a few theories. Maybe it’s because I like wondering if my toes are still attached to my body. Or possibly because I don’t have a driver’s license and it’s the only way I can get around.
I also like to spend time with my dad, even though I always have him ride ahead of me. If the ice can hold him, it’s safe for me, right?
My dad’s a bicycle nut and riding together is one of the best ways to spend time with him. He has three bikes, and wants more. I only have two, but the one I ride in winter is better than all of his combined. It’s a Diamondback Overdrive with 29” wheels, equipped with Nokian Extreme studded tires. In other words, I could run over a squirrel and not even notice.
If you haven’t noticed, winter biking can be very expensive. My bike cost 300 dollars at a pawn shop. The tires, a gift, retail at around 100 dollars each. The safety gear is its own problem. I wear special insulated pants over regular ones, either a ski or neoprene mask and two pairs of gloves.
Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t suggest a winter jacket. Your torso is the only part of you that will stay warm. Also, if you’re going to ride in below zero temperatures, you’ll want goggles so the liquid in your eyeballs won’t freeze. It can take at least an hour to get dressed and ready for a bike ride, but the preparation is preferable to turning into a Popsicle after two hours out in the cold.
It’s important to have a separate bike for winter riding because the salt on the roads, along with the slush and snow, can corrode brakes and gears. You don’t want to put your pretty little road bike through that kind of trauma. It’s also a good idea to have wide tires for traction. The wider the tires, the more metal studs you can have per wheel. The more studs you have, the less likely you are to fall down and end up with your insides on the outside.
Jamie McDonald, owner of Sunrise Cyclery in Minneapolis, said the most important concern when biking in the winter is to avoid being run over.
“Bike like the car that’s driving next to you doesn’t know you’re there,” McDonald said. “Bike like you’re invisible.”
The rules for winter biking are the same as with any other kind of cycling. Best of all, “anybody can take it up,” McDonald said.
“Know your situation and be careful,” he said. “You can hit a patch of ice, you can hit a patch of dry leaves. It’ll lead to the same crash.”
Despite the cost, winter cycling is rewarding in its own way. A student once asked my dad, a substitute teacher in Edina, if he knew “that guy who bikes on the creek.” People are impressed when you show up on a bike in the middle of January.
You’re also able to see interesting things when you go out on top of a lake or creek. A month ago, I was riding with my dad on Minnehaha Creek when we found an armchair stuck in the ice behind the Meadowbrook apartments. It was nice to be able to take a rest in a comfy chair.
Of course, the exercise is great, but my favorite part is finding unique things that my dad and I can talk about for months afterward.