Twin Cities Cyclist Winter Commuter: Meet Chris Warren

Everyday this week, we have introduced you to a different winter commuter.  The goal of this has been to show you that all types of different people choose to ride through the winter, but so far they have all had one thing in common, they have been doing it for a number of years.

We have tried to make this week about two different things; saluting those people who ride, but also encouraging new people to get out this winter. Today we wanted to bring something for the latter, so we asked Twin Cities Cyclist Chris Warren to write something up for us.

You see, this winter is the first time that Chris has commuted by bike.  It has presented some challenges, but he has also come to experience the unique joy that is winter commuting.

Might Captain Ice Beard

My First Year as a Winter Commuter – by Chris Warren.

This has been my first winter of full-time bike computer, and so far, it’s been an occasionally frustrating but always worthwhile experience. Even my worst day riding has been better than the days I couldn’t and had to take the bus. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bus, but when I’m on one I usually find that I spend the whole trip wishing I was on my bike.

As fall began coming to an end, I realized that I wasn’t ready to stop riding.  With that thought, I started evaluating how ready I was to stay on my bike all winter. Clothing-wise I was in pretty good shape – I had a lot of cold weather clothing from my snowboarding days and waterproof hiking boots that know how to handle the winter. My bikes were another story. I had two cheap bikes from BikesDirect, and they both shared a pretty serious issue: low clearance on the tires, leaving no room for fenders or studded tires. Yes, they would work for winter riding, but I wanted to be as safe and prepared as I could be, and felt that studded tires were a big part of that.

After a lot of research, I ended up at The Hub Co-op testing out the Civia Bryant. I was intrigued by the belt drive, internal hub, and disc brakes. Plus they made a convincing pitch that it was low maintenance and would be great in the winter. The test-ride went great, and after a bit of thought I made the plunge for my first non-cheapo bike.

As the weather got colder, everything was going great. I picked up a few things as I realized I needed or wanted them – a reflective Pearl Izumi thermal biking jacket, a snowboarding helmet, some goggles, a balaclava, and Louis Garneau Zero Degree ErgoGrip shoes. They’ve all been worthwhile additions, and I’ve been comfortable biking down to -10º, no problem.

A typical day’s gear is:

  • Upper Body
    • T-shirt
    • Arm warmers
    • Long underwear
    • Sweater or wool bike jersey
    • Thermal biking jacket
    • Winter gloves
    • Glove liners
  • Lower Body
    • Sock liners
    • Wool socks
    • Cold weather biking shoes or hiking boots
    • Long underwear
    • Knee warmers
    • Jeans
  • Head
    • Balaclava
    • Goggles
    • Snowboard helmet

I’ve also added a few things to the bike:

  • Fenders
  • Studded tires
  • Rack and laptop bag
  • Dynamo hub and lights

This gear has made biking pleasant all winter long, and biking has made this winter one of the best I’ve ever experienced.

One thing that I didn’t see mentioned during my research is the mental lift that a few key pieces of gear can give you. For me, the cycling jacket and the dynamo lights have done a lot to increase my confidence that cars see me while I’m on the road. Knowing that I am more visible means that, while I’m still cautious, I don’t get as anxious holding my line as a car approaches from behind. That peace of mind goes a long way when dealing with traffic.

But not everything has been perfect. I’ve learned a fair bit about bike maintenance over the past few years, but I’ve never worked on those new low maintenance parts that came on the Bryant. When things went wrong, there was a lot to learn before I could get back on the road. I’ve had to learn how to hook the internally-geared hub up, how to align disc brakes, and how to properly tension the belt. If you’re relying on your bike to get to work and there’s anything on it that you don’t feel comfortable working on yourself, I strongly recommend taking the time to learn about it.

The worst, however, has been that the rear cog does not deal well with road slush. On days when there’s a lot of crap on the road, stuff gets lodged on the cog, causing the belt to skip. It took a few times before we worked out what was happening and I could start to avoid it. But I can’t avoid it every time, and there have been a handful of times where the belt has jumped completely off when I’m a few miles from work and home, and I end up walking my bike the rest of the way. I’ve heard that Gates has a new cog design that addresses this, but I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t give up any of the experiences I’ve had so far. This will not be my last winter of bike commuting.

__________________________________________________________________

Thanks Chris, see you on the road!

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