In Minneapolis, many bicyclists embrace the winter months by continuing to ride. If you are already biking, or considering winter biking, here are some tips for dealing with the snow, cold temperatures, and motorists:
- Travel slowly when snow and ice are present. Riding a bike on a street can be challenging, particularly when snow has been compacted by vehicles. Ride in bare patches of pavement when possible. Take turns and curves at a slower speed, and allow longer distances for braking. Also, be sure to plan ahead for extra travel time.
- Take the off-street trails. Since Minneapolis has so many miles of trails (60 miles and counting!), urbanites from across the country often suffer from "trail envy." To top it all off, the Park Board and Public Works Department have policies of clearing snow from off-street trails soon after the end of a snowfall. In most cases, this occurs in less than 24 hours. Leave the grime and compacted snow of the streets behind, and head for the trails!
- Use an old bike in good working condition. Salt and sand can wreak havoc on your treasured bicycle, resulting in rust and breakdowns. Use an older but functional bicycle in the winter months. Two elements of a well functioning winter bike include effective brakes and a well greased chain (wet lube is ideal for snowy conditions). Wider tires with good traction are also essential.
- Dress in layers. Just like other winter sports, bicycling can heat up your body rapidly. Apply layers to your torso and legs, and be prepared to strip them away as your body warms.
- Cover your extremities. All of us have experienced the extremes of a sweating torso and numb ears or toes. Don’t ignore your head, neck, hands, and feet when you bike. Comfortable stocking caps, scarves, socks, and gloves (which allow dexterity) should be considered. And if you want to look extra cool, use goggles.
- Ride defensively around motorists. Cyclists are more invisible in the winter (with fewer cyclists riding), and roads are more narrow (when curb-to-curb plowing has not occurred). Always be prepared for motorists to make a mistake. Follow traffic laws and be as considerate as possible. Educate yourself and your friends (motorists and bicyclists alike!) on traffic laws and safety. Please note, it is legal to ride in a general traffic lane when a bike lane is filled with snow.
- Stay visible. Riding in the winter months means more darkness. Brighten your ride by using headlights, taillights, and reflective clothing and gear.
- Use 311. If you see a bicycle-related problem, which involves plowing, shoveling, signing, or another traffic concern, call 311. The City relies on the public to flag problems. If you live outside of Minneapolis, call (612) 673-3000. For problems occurring on park property, call 612-230-6400. A Minneapolis bikeway maintenance responsibility list is available for more direct call routing.
- Use transit. When the going gets tough, give yourself a warm break by using the bus or train. All Metro Transit buses and trains are equipped with bicycle racks.
- Embrace winter. Our identity is shaped by our weather. Snow and cold temperatures add diversity and beauty to Minneapolis. Riding a bicycle in the winter can be exhilarating and practical. It keeps you in good health, it’s good for the environment, it’s cheap, and at times, it’s even the fastest mode of travel.
Last updated Apr. 9, 2012