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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Getting Weatherized for Winter Bike Rides

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood visits the Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts to get advice on what it takes to fully winterize oneself against the elements and sometimes hazardous roads for cold season bicycle commuting. Steve spoke with Milton Trimitsis, one of the co-owners of the school, and Lynne Wiesman, a Boston bike commuter.


WOMAN: Here's where you can just -- you can just pull this cage out of the way. Just literally, just pull it back. The chains you're going to drape on this first cog. There you go. Excellent.

CURWOOD: A seasonal ritual is underway at the Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The annual preparation of man, woman, and machine for the coming ice patches, snow banks, and other road hazards of winter. There are a fair number of people who ride to work year-round, and even some who take to the road on days when most cars wouldn't. Among them, Milton Trimitsis, one of the co-owners of the school. He says if you plan to brave the elements, there's one essential piece of equipment.

TRIMITSIS: The most important thing is getting fenders, getting mud guards. Because in most places there's a lot more wet weather than icy weather. It's amazing how much of the water on you when you're riding in a rain storm comes from the wheels of the bike rather than from the sky. You find that you can ride and your shoes stay dry.

(Bike cogs turning)

CURWOOD: Now, the tires on this bike are really skinny. I mean, they look like they'd be kind of dangerous in the winter time, don't you think?

TRIMITSIS: This is another one of those Catholic/Protestant things. There are those who believe in the depths in their heart that it's better to ride skinny tires because they act like knife blades. They cut down to whatever solid pavement there is under the muck.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

TRIMITSIS: And there are those who won't go out with anything narrower than a snowshoe.

CURWOOD: Big, wide mountain bike tires.

TRIMITSIS: Big, wide mountain bike tires, exactly. And there are situations in which both are better. If you're riding through deep, fresh snow, a skinny tire doesn't present nearly as much resistance, so you get more traction because you don't have to push as hard. On rutted, older snow, a wider tire can often give you a more stable platform.

CURWOOD: What about snow tires? Can you put snow tires on a bike?

TRIMITSIS: Absolutely. There's a wonderful company in Finland that makes studded tires for bicycles.

(Clanking sounds)

CURWOOD: Look at that. Whoa. You're not kidding. These are studs just like a regular car would have studs, huh? Bet this makes a racket when you put it on the pavement, huh?

TRIMITSIS: It just makes a tickety tickety tickety. It's not terribly loud.

(A cog turns)

CURWOOD: And then if I wanted to do this, what should I wear?

TRIMITSIS: The biggest mistake people tend to make when they're riding through their first winter is wearing too much, and they get sweaty and then they get chilled.


TRIMITSIS: Probably the single most important garment is some kind of waterproof shell, some kind of a rain jacket.

CURWOOD: Okay, let's suppose I wanted to try this winter bike riding (laughs). Any tips for me about riding my bike?

TRIMITSIS: You need to be a little more confident in taking your place on the road. In the summer time you can sort of hug the edge and hug the shoulder (a loud bus passes outside) and get away with it. In winter that place isn't there any more sometimes. And bicyclists often think, if I get out into the middle of the lane I'm just going to get run over from behind. The reality is, there are very few motorists who are willing to commit cold-blooded murder.

CURWOOD: If suddenly I encounter some ice, what do I do?

TRIMITSIS: Stay calm. The bike isn't going to suddenly fall out from under you. If you just continue ahead as you are without accelerating or decelerating or turning, you'll be just fine. The other beauty of a bicycle is that you have a vehicle that you can pick up and put on your shoulder. So if you see a stretch in the road that you don't want to deal with at all, you don't have to. You can walk through it. A car driver doesn't have that option.

CURWOOD: You have one of your commuters here.


CURWOOD: Can I ask your name?

WEISSMAN: Lynne Weisman.

CURWOOD: And where do you live?

WEISSMAN: I live in Somerville.

CURWOOD: And you commute to?

WEISSMAN: I commute to Dorchester. I work at the Codman Square Health Center.

CURWOOD: Okay. So why? Why do this? Convince me. I, you know, the notion of even, like, 3 raindrops coming on my bike commute is enough to send me fleeing to the car or the bus or whatever. So why should I do this?

WEISMAN: Well, as far as the weather goes, there's a saying, I think among bicyclists, that there's no bad weather. There's only bad clothing. (Laughter in the distance.)


WEISMAN: So, it's kind of like you go somewhere and it's cold out, and maybe it's wet out, and you get somewhere and you're warm, your cheeks are rosy, everyone else is cold by the time they get there. You've had a workout. It's fun, it's cheap, it's just so much nicer to bicycle. And it's such a, it's much less isolating. Like, you see other bikers and you smile at them. Rather than when you're in a car, you see other drivers and people curse at you and they make all kinds of motions. And it's just so much nicer way to live.

CURWOOD: Lynne Weissman is a Boston bike commuter. We also spoke with Milton Trimitsis, co-owner of the Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



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