Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, and even though there isn’t a drop of Irish blood in my Southside Milwaukee lineage, I typically try to get in the spirit and wear a little green. On my bike ride in to work, my green pants typically remind me to look for signs of spring like greening grass. This year Spring seems on hold, but I pedaled to work in my green pants even though I knew before I left that the weather was not particularly festive.
St. Patrick’s Day, 2012: 70 degrees and sunny
A year ago, I was complaining about the long winter in my post titled Uncle! No more snow please.
2014, record winter cold and snow, but I resolve not to complain.
I looked up the average Milwaukee weather for March 17th and it turns out 2012 was a serious anomaly. St. Patrick’s Day revelers in southern Wisconsin are greeted by a a cloudy day 89% of the time, and the normal high is 43. This new knowledge put this year in perspective, and left me wondering what effect minor fluctuations in the weather have on how many people ride their bikes.
The weather forecast is very important to me, because I ride no matter what and I need to plan what I am going to wear to bike through whatever nature has in store for the day’s commute. Over the years I have stocked a work wardrobe so I can dress appropriately, but comfortably for every kind of weather. I also have a closet over-flowing with different weight jackets, hats, boots, gloves and scarves. I even have a toolbox of different bikes from which I can pick just the right ride for the conditions, rain, sleet, snow, ice and of course, sunny warm weather (if that ever comes).
I know I am on the extreme end of the bike commuting spectrum though, and most people don’t ride in crummy weather. Even bicycle meccas like Copenhagen, where 36% of people bike to work, they loose 20%-30% (mostly to transit) in the winter. Even bicycle crazy Portland, OR (6% commute by bike) sees a 23% drop in two-wheeled traffic in heavy rain. The highest bicycle mode share of any major city in the US is in Davis, CA at 19.1% and they do see 20 inches of precipitation per year.
While climates vary and you can argue about climate change all you want, bicycle use is on the rise in communities across the US, in part do to changing preferences, but mostly because of improved facilities. As the use of bicycles for transportation has grown, so has weather forecasting for people who ride, like the aptly titled ShouldIBike.com. My current favorite is 2WheelWeather.com. I learned about this bicycle specific forecasting website when I volunteered at the MORC table next to Kristin Clark at QBP’s Frostbike. Kristin is an avid mountain biker and a professional meteorologist for WheelWeather.cow. She even gives customized long-term future forecasts for bicycle event organizers. See below for a sample forecast for the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout Fatbike Race.
I get teased because I ride even in blizzard conditions and even 70 mph wind gusts, but I am curious what weather limits “normal people” from riding. I thought it would be fun to hear examples from readers of what extreme weather you have ridden through and what forecast will put the brakes on your commute to work.