After I finished grad school, many things in my life changed at one time. It might be fair to say that in some important ways I fell apart. My desire to be a part of the literary and academic worlds disappeared almost entirely. As a result, I took an easy job on a whim and ended up there for three years. One of the reasons I kept that menial job for so long was that it afforded me some time to put myself back together. The job was dog walking, and in those three years I had eons of time to think through some things as well as listen to hundreds of books on tape. While my appetite for fiction had always been insatiable, I'd never given non-fiction much attention until then, and many of the books I listened to while walking dogs have influenced me greatly. That, however, is not what I want to talk about.
My dog walking route included walks all over town, and I was commuting between visits somewhere around twenty-five miles per day by bicycle. I hadn't been cycling for too long when I took that job, and I spent most of my first winter day splayed out in the street while the constellation of my scattered belongings drifted smoothly away from me across the icy road, as if I were the sprawling Milky Way and my belongings were distant galaxies in the ever-expanding, cold, and merciless universe. The metaphor is wardrobe appropriate, too, as I was basically dressed to venture into outer space. My outfit was ridiculous enough that one of Denver's prime time news anchors once saw me locking up my bike downtown and scoffed at me as he climbed into his limo. Individual snowflakes were actually bouncing off of his hairdo, by the way, and he could barely cross the icy sidewalk in his leather loafers.
I bought some fenders, studded tires, and wool clothing and seldom encountered trouble thereafter. In fact, Denver's nastiest days were some of my favorites. Yes, there were cars sliding into intersections everywhere, but the city's customary racket and hustle were absorbed into a wintery sponge of peace and quiet. Those rides felt for the glamor and brilliance of the landscape almost like journeys through outer space (I imagine).
By no means am I alone on the bike path come winter, but there are few enough of us that the populace at large assume we're all insane. We're not, though. Riding in the winter is as much fun as sledding. It's as much fun as skiing, and you don't have to drive in traffic for three hours to get to the ski area. Really, the big hurdle is fear, and that's a hurdle that I have to force myself over at the beginning of every winter. Once you're out there, though, you realize you're not going to freeze to death, and you quickly begin to enjoy yourself. In fact, you'll probably marvel that not everyone is riding in the winter all the time.
If you've never ridden in the winter, you'll need a few things. Clothing that insulates when wet. Merino wool works best for the layers next to your skin, and it's incredibly effective once your body warms up. Even when it's as cold as 10-15 degrees out, you won't need much more than a wool t-shirt and a lightly insulated shell. Some big mittens and waterproof shoes are also important. You can find all sorts of expensive options out there, clipless or otherwise, but I've been using some hiking boots I bought on sale for $80 for the last three or four years, and they're perfect. Oh, and if you don't already know, the city maintains the bike paths like they are Hickenlooper's mother's fine china.
You'll also need the right tires. If you're riding on packed snow, knobby mountain or cross tires will do nicely. Be sure to run a low pressure. If you're riding on ice, buy studded tires. They're expensive, but they'll make your bike reliable in any weather, and they're cheaper than car insurance. I've had great success with 700x42 studded cross tires and 29x2.1 studded tires. There really isn't much they can't handle. Snow over 12 inches deep starts to wear you down, but you won't loose traction.
Finally, make sure the key to your U-lock is on a key ring with lots of other keys. Dropping a lone key into ten inches of snow and having to search for it with your bare hands is not as much fun as it sounds. At the risk of making winter riding more complicated than it is, I'll also say that if your commute is relatively flat, consider a single speed. Cassettes have a tendency to freeze up on longer rides, and the rear derailleur pulley puts enough slack in the drivetrain that your chain will just slide over the frozen cone in which your cassette is preserved like an ice age mummy.
Wipe down and lube your chain every day you ride in the snow or crud. You'll be amazed when your chain rusts overnight.
If you haven't tried it, do! Your snowy commute to work could soon be the best part of your day. After three winters of riding around, I developed new career aspirations. It's a stretch, but one could argue that Yawp was conceived one frigid February moment as I fought my way up the endless hill on 44th Ave. head-on into a blizzard and found myself grinning--yes, grinning like an insane person.
Once you begin riding in the winter, you'll begin looking for excuses to leave your house when it snows on your day off. I had no place to go this morning, so I made up some pointless errands for myself. I ended up at the Tattered Cover, where I happily came upon this non-fiction pearl.