If You Can Ski, You Can Bike in the Winter

By Peter Burns

Join Local Motion (and Peter) at a winter biking workshop near you this December! These fun events are free and include food and prizes. Find the schedule at www.localmotion.org/events

When I started riding through the winter 35 years ago, there were only a handful of us. Each year more and more folks are riding though the winter.  The technology for cold weather riding is constantly improving.  Even more important is the change in consciousness.  Many people see winter riding as not only possible, but desirable.  If you can ski, you can bike in the winter!

I teach bike commuting classes for Local Motion and on more than one occasion I have heard someone say, "Of course bicycles are OK during the spring, summer and fall, but they are not practical for the winter."  I have been a year round rider for many years, and I believe that a bicycle can be a practical means of transportation through the winter.  It is certainly a challenge riding when the temperature drops and the snow falls, but so is driving a car.  I live in Winooski and ride to Burlington every day. There were some difficult days last winter, but I was always able to get through it.

There are some things that you and our neighbors can do to make year-round rider easier. For starters, safe, heated, indoor bike parking makes a big difference.  This should be available in all public buildings and many businesses.  There is indoor bike parking in Burlington's City Hall, for example, but it is squeezed into the basement and you have to hang your bike up on a hook, which is challenging and also doesn't really work if your bike has fenders.  It is a step in the right direction, but still falls short.  Indoor parking is important because it enables a bike rider to lock and unlock their bike without getting frozen fingers.  This may seem like a minor detail, but when the temperature is in the single digits, locking and unlocking a bike turns into an ordeal.  I also use front and rear lights in the day and at night.  Indoor parking means I can turn on my lights just before leaving the heated area, avoiding freezing hands.  

Streets need to be plowed right to the edge of the road.  Often just the center of the road is plowed and salted, so that there is no room for a bicycle rider.  State law mandates that cars give bicycles four feet of clearance. This becomes nearly impossible when the roads narrow because of plowing.  In addition, protected bike lanes should be plowed and salted.  These bike lanes should also not be used as a place to put snow when people plow their driveways and shovel their walkways.  

We must continue to move forward in making all of Vermont a more bike friendly state by implementing infrastructure changes including many more protected bike lanes and
bike paths.  The infrastructure changes are happening, but very slowly.  Many American and European cities have bike systems that function year round, even in cold weather.  It is a question of political will.  Last spring the Colchester Causeway was badly damaged by a storm.  As summer approached, it looked as if the Causeway would be closed and the Local Motion Bike Ferry to South Hero would not be running.   Governor Scott and other high level political figures decided that this was not acceptable and in an amazingly short period of time the Causeway was fixed and the Bike Ferry was up and running.  This is a great example of how the state and towns can make biking better for Vermonters very quickly. We need to take an all-in approach to make the roads safer all four seasons for those of us who choose or have only the choice to bike commute.

If you drive a car, you can help.  Be patient when a bike rider doesn't have enough room to pull all the way over and seems as if they are slowing you down.  Honking your horn does not help.  When you see a winter rider stopped at a red light, you might roll down your window and thank them for reducing traffic, not polluting, and helping to make the world a better place.