The Beauty of (Not) Biking in Winter

Today’s guest post from Dave Steele provides an interesting perspective I have never considered.  What would you do if you couldn’t ride a bike? 

I’m one “those crazy people.” You know, one of those people who has been known to show up to work on a bike when the air temp is well below zero with a fierce, howling wind straight out of Canada. I’ve ridden in all kinds of extreme weather: cold, rain, wind, sleet, snow. I’m the US Postal Service of cycling: nothing will keep me from my appointed rounds. I have my own list of personal records: Coldest bike ride. Hottest bike ride. Windiest bike ride. Overall most miserable bike ride. I feel like there’s nothing Mother Nature can dish out that I can’t handle, except perhaps a tornado or severe lightening storm. 

I work in an eight story office building in downtown Milwaukee, and according to Randy, my building’s maintenance man, I have become something of a legend throughout the building. I figure Randy would have his finger on the pulse of the building better than anyone, so I take him at his word. 

Some of the funnest moments I’ve ever had on a bike have been in winter. On a quiet side street or bike path, gliding along on two or three inches of fresh snow, studded tires gripping the pavement, the trees glistening with fresh white snow. It can be transcendently fun. 

So, yes, I am something of an evangelist for winter cycling. But I have been off the bike for most of this winter, and, in fact, I have not been on a bike at all since early January, almost six weeks ago.

I pedaled happily through most of a frigid, but dry, December. But after visiting family in Atlanta after Christmas, I came down with what became the worst flu I had in ten years. It turns out that my family and I had caught some kind of Radioactive Mutant Virus while down South. It swept through my family and laid us up for weeks. 

My own bout with the bug was pretty rough. But after about a week I was back at work, and rode my bike to work like I always do. The Monday I was back at work, I had a lingering cough, which was aggravated by the cold, dry air I was huffing and puffing while riding to work and back. On Tuesday, the cough came back with a new intensity, and I was feeling lousy again. I went back the doctor and he told me I had a bad case of bronchitis. I figured that being so quick to get back to cycling in the cold, dry air had turned the flu into bronchitis. I decided I’d stay off the bike entirely until it cleared up. 

The bronchitis triggered an underlying case of asthma I’ve dealt with off and on since I was a kid. Ironically, cycling had essentially cured me of asthma, or so I thought. I had forgotten I’d even had asthma since attacks had become so rare, after getting into excellent shape by biking.

Now, the bronchitis is gone, but the asthma remains, aggravated by cold air. So I’ve been off the bike for two months, mostly out of concern that I would have an asthma attack on the street.

The funny thing is, I really don’t miss the winter cycling as much as I thought I would. Sure, when I see a guy wiz by on a bike I get a tinge of envy. But it’s nice to not have to think that much about keeping clean, warm and dry on the bike. It’s nice to not have to answer the constant questions from coworkers and people in elevators, or be seen as “that maniac” that rode his bike in on a cold day. And, as hard as it is for a grizzled winter biker to admit it, it is nice to not have to ride home straight into a 20 mile an hour wind in single digit temps, or to slop through freezing slush, sleet and snow on the street.

Instead of riding my bike, I’m riding the bus. I’ve been getting reacquainted with the Milwaukee transit system. The Milwaukee bus often gets a bad rap, but I find it to be a solid, reliable, if unglamorous, system. The buses are almost always there when they’re supposed to be, and the drivers are professional and friendly. Where I live, there’s good density of bus routes, with numerous options to quickly get me where I want to go.

My other set of wheels

 It’s nice to be able to kick back and read a book or zone out with It’s nice to be able to kick back and read a book or zone out withmy iPod after a long day at work. Since I’m not driving, I don’t have to deal with the hassles of driving a car in the winter, and I’m still getting good exercise, since I walk about a mile and a half a day to and from various bus stops.

I still am definitely a winter enthusiast. Walking still gives me the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of winter. It’s not as a fun as riding, but it sure beats driving.

At this point it looks like I’ll be off the bike entirely until Spring. Will I ride next winter? Most likely, yes, but it’s good to know that the bus is a great option for those days when I’m not feeling so “extreme.”

One thing I am certain of is that next winter, I’m getting a flu shot.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

One thought on “The Beauty of (Not) Biking in Winter

  1. David discovers Bus. Great. Thanks, Dave. My limits on winter biking are approx 15 degrees no wind; I found myself in 10 degrees and was fine. And I’m leery of falling on (too old for) slippery roads, but I do a bit of snow biking – not enough for a commute. So, it’s the bus for me because I don’t have a car, and mooching is unprincipled.

    Keep in mind, Milwaukeans, that the fiscal future of the bus is precarious. We could lose the bus, or many of the routes. The stimulus funds bought us some new buses and a bit of operating money.

    The new budget from Madison will probably put all transportation funds into road building. Alternative transportation will have to share state funding (such as it is) with schools, corrections, health care and other state-local responsibilities.

    In addition we expect the Republicans to gut all Regional Transit Authorities in the state, further reducing any chance we would have to get federal money to buy new transit equipment.

    Stay in touch with these issues. I hope you all will appreciate that all alternative transportation will be challenged; it’s the moment for bus riders and bicyclists to band together politically. Or? Or what? Well, we could end up being walkers.

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