Winter Biking Goes to the Dogs

In honor of International Winter Bike To Work Day on February 10th, state agencies within Lafayette Park hosted a “Winter Bike to Work” panel. Set to inspire fellow colleagues to consider biking in the winter time, three panelists provided tips and suggestions on how to bike safely and have fun biking in the winter.  The panelists were:

  1. Ted Sitz, Department of Employment and Economic Development
  2. Jen Jevnisek, Pollution Control Agency
  3. Crystal Sursley, Lowertown Bike Shop
  4. Merv the Dog, Lowertown Bike Shop

Even though Merv was an advertised panel member,­ he was still a pleasant surprise by many audience members, especially those attending via Skype who admired his calm and patient demeanor.  Crystal demonstrates daily that biking to work, even in the winter, can also include trailers with passengers.  At 80 pounds, it’s no easy feat to bike to work with that amount of weight, and yet Crystal makes it seem effortless.

“We moved close to downtown, where our shop is (within the Union Depot).  The first time I biked to work, biking from the south of downtown, to the Union Depot, I had to get off my bike and walk up the bridge to get to work.  By the end of the week, I was able to fully bike there, but I still ended up a half an hour late to work.”

Now biking to work with Merv is easier.  Crystal and Merv demonstrate that biking in the winter is often slower; all of the panelists have studded tires on their bikes and that alone slows down a rider.  And during snowy or icy conditions, the same practical advice for auto drivers applies to bicyclists: take it slow.  Jen wisely mentioned that you shouldn’t be afraid to fall. In fact, you should learn how to fall correctly, and assume that it could happen in snowy/icy conditions.  “Be prepared to fall where the trunk of your body may impact pavement, such as your hip.  You don’t want to fall hands first because you may likely break your wrists.”

Don’t let this stop you from considering winter biking, as scary as that sounds.  Like driving a car in the winter for the first time, I was recommended to try biking in an empty parking lot, or biking on a weekend day in an area that you know and trust.  The biggest hurdles may actually be cold, not snow and ice, thanks to climate change.  Wearing layers is recommended over thick, bulky jackets, and stay away from cotton.

Wind chills on your eyes can hurt and is easily remedied with ski goggles or even safety glasses.  The panelists brought a variety of lights to show the audience.  “You may have two separate needs:  1. To be seen, and 2. To be able to see.  For urban riding, many streets are lit up enough to be able to see your own path, so you may need to focus on being seen with a variety of blinky lights.  I have 3 separate red ones on the back of my bike,” Ted says.  Crystal commented that she has monkey lights on her wheels in addition to front and back blinky lights, so a variety of colors flash at different intervals.

I moderated the session, passing along questions from our web participants to the panelists.  People asked questions about how to be able to breathe with different types of face protection, and how to “bust the rust” on bike chains with winter road/salt conditions.  Ted commented that he used to use vegetable oil to lube his chain.  “It’s cheap, it’s easier on the environment than other products, but it doesn’t prevent corrosion so you may have to do more maintenance on your bike.”

Among countless others, these three year-round bicyclists helped me to go from being a seasonal rider, to riding on ice/snow-free days in the winter, to riding every day since February 2016.  As a birthday present, my boyfriend bought me a great pair of studded tires last year.  My only constant thought has been:  “Why didn’t I get these sooner?!?”

I didn’t own a bike 10 years ago.  And now I’m “one of those people” who bikes every day.  Granted, my commute is not that far, but since I sold my car 9 years ago, I can’t tell you how much I love the freedom of getting nearly anywhere I want or need to go via bicycle.

The Lafayette Park Commuter Team is gearing up for Earth Week-related bike events, including:

  • Earth Week Transit Fair
  • Bike to Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary
  • E-bike panel and demonstration

Most people outside of state government have no idea what the Lafayette Park is.  It actually was a park/residential area, known as “the Summit Avenue of the east side of Saint Paul, back in the day.  A mile from downtown and the booming railroad system, the richest of the rich lived within Lafayette Park.  Warehouses eventually moved in and were later converted to cheap but efficient space for state employees, Lafayette Park has been home to state employees for over 30 years.  Outside of the Green Line and Nice Ride system, transit is a challenge to this area, hence why a transit team formed to work with management and their landlord to work toward expanding transit-related initiatives.

With 22 participants, the winter bike to work panel was a hit, and the transit team will consider making this an annual event.  My personal motto to you if you’re interested in biking anywhere in the winter: try it just once.  You might end up liking it.  And who knows?  Someday you might find yourself on a panel speaking about your experiences, telling others about how much you love biking for recreational or transit reasons.

Melissa Wenzel

About Melissa Wenzel

Car-free bicycle advocate, passionate state employee, union leader. MN's "Industrial Stormwater Sherpa." Human being first, government employee second.