The first time Michael Grube decided to ride his bike to work in the snow, even he thought it was a little crazy.
“Am I really going to do this?” he thought.
He traded in four wheels for two anyway and crunched through a fresh layer of powdered snow — without crashing to the ground.
“I saved that for later,” he laughed.
Dropping temperatures, howling wind and the threat of snow are enough to send most cyclists into hibernation, but Grube has biked during the winter for three years now. He commutes about six miles to work at the University of Nebraska-Omaha nearly every day.
It's unknown how many Omaha cyclists ride in the winter, but nearly 200 people are registered for the second annual Winter Bike Commuter Challenge, similar to last year's turnout. The challenge invites commuters to track their trips, providing city officials with cycling data. The city can then use the data to determine what resources are needed to promote biking in Omaha.
Nebraska ranked No. 43 in the League of American Bicyclists 2012 Bicycle Friendly State Program. The League named Minnesota, which has a similar climate, the No. 2 most bike friendly state, suggesting Nebraska winters needn't keep people off their bikes.
Grube says riding in the winter is fun, despite the weather. His advice? Don't give up so easily. It's a worthwhile option as long as you're prepared. Local cycling experts and longtime Omaha commuters like Grube shared their tips and tricks for riding in the winter.
Stock up on thin layers of clothing. Start with a thermal or long underwear. Then a lightweight wool sweater. If you want to spend the money, you can invest in a bike-specific winter riding jersey, but they run about $100. Put a windproof soft shell jacket on top to protect yourself from the wind.
Do not wear cotton. It absorbs moisture rather than wicking it away from your skin to keep you dry and warm. Slip plastic newspaper sleeves over your wool socks to keep your feet dry.
SHED SOME LIGHT
Invest in lights. There are two types: those that help you see and those that help others see you. You'll need both. Make sure your bike has a red light on the back and a white light on the front to brighten your path.
Use reflective material on everything that moves — including you. A roll of reflective tape costs about $5. Stick some on your pants and wheel spokes so drivers know they're approaching a moving object. You can use it to tape over the ventilation slots on your helmet to keep the wind out, too.
Test those reflectors and lights. Ride your bike in an empty, dark parking lot while your friend watches from a car to make sure you're visible.
'Tis the season for potholes. (You've been warned.)
Adjust your route accordingly. Remember that the city removes snow from streets first, so you might not have a clear path if you commute on trails. Then again, they might not have plowed the streets or sidewalks you normally take either. Drive the route first so you know what to expect.
Allow yourself twice the time to get from point A to point B in the winter. Wind, snow and chilly temperatures will slow you down. Test your route on the weekend so you know about how long your commute is. If you ride in the street, don't forget to factor in traffic, including accidents. Keep in mind: Main roads, like Dodge Street, will be plowed before side roads and neighborhoods.
Have a backup plan. Tell someone where you plan to ride in case you get stranded. You should always bring your cell phone, ID and extra cash. A bus pass wouldn't hurt either.
Ride differently than you do in warm weather. You drive differently in the winter, so this makes sense. Take wider turns, and hit the brakes sooner.
Look for rust and squeeze your tires before every ride to check your tire pressure. Invest in studded tires to improve traction. This is because cold, wet conditions will affect your bike.
Sources: Michael Grube, winter bike commuter and certified instructor, League of American Bicyclists ; Julie Harris and Madison Haugland, Activate Omaha
Contact the writer: 402-444-1071