November 12, 2007

Cyclists Persevere Through Wintry Weather

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As the cold descends upon Ithaca, many people bring out their walking boots and heavy jackets and put away their bikes for the winter months. The harsh Cornell winters can be intimidating and frequently, many bikers put a hold on their cycling at the first sign of snow. Nevertheless, there are many people who continue to believe winter biking is a feasible option.
Lois E. Chaplin, bicycle and pedestrian specialist for Cornell University and the Cornell Locals Roads Program, explained that people who bike regularly are less likely to be involved in accidents under inclement conditions than those who only bike under normal conditions. She believes this is largely due to the fact that experience is the main determinant of one’s success.
Despite the popular misconception that everyone stops biking in the winter, bike enthusiasts will still go out in severe conditions.
Mike Wine ’09, an avid biker despite a past serious bike accident, explained that he would never give up his bike unless there was excessive ice or snow on the ground. However, he admitted that most people do stop biking as winter approaches.
“The rate at which people stop biking is a function of harshness of conditions … at times 95 percent of bikers may stop on really bad days, but even on the absolute worst days you will still see people biking,” noted Wine.
He also said he believes that more people would continue biking in the winter months if Cornell made a few changes to help the biking community.
“They could start by maintaining the roads better. It doesn’t help to have bike lane when conditions are so bad that you have to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid danger. They leave pot hole covers in bike lane and frequently, there is still a lot of plowed up snow in them,” said Wine.
Other bikers who have heard of such dangers hope to continue biking, but are unsure whether they will be able to do safely.
Audrey Ahlholm ’11, who is used to biking to class and crew practice everyday, is starting to fear the winter biking conditions.
“While I hope to continue biking in the winter, I don’t know how successful that will be. But unfortunately, to get to class on time I think I will need to bike. All my classes are really far away from each other so walking is just not practical,” said Alholm.
Although it takes more time, a large majority of Cornell’s population does choose to walk. According to a survey conducted by the Transportation Services, 71 percent of undergraduates walk to class. The survey also indicated that only 3 percent of employees, 4 percent of graduate students and 1.4 percent of undergraduates bike to campus. However, these percentages tend to become even smaller as snow and ice appear on the ground.
Chaplin admitted that she gives up biking when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. However, she encourages others to continue if they choose to since she believes winter biking is certainly possible given the right equipment, clothes and training.
Chaplin recommended bringing up a second bike for the winter since a year-round bike will experience the wear and tear from snow, ice and salt.
Wine, who has biked at Cornell during the past couple of winters, also advised getting a bicycle that can handle the rough conditions.
“This is my second bike because my first one couldn’t handle the hills since the brakes were bad. If you have good brakes, your stopping distance isn’t too affected by weather conditions,” he said. “Stopping distance in general is affected by two things: the friction of the tire with the ground and the friction of the break pads with the rim. At Cornell, a good winter bike definitely needs to have a lot of friction with the break pads.”
Chaplin also explained that keeping your bike in good condition is critical if a second bike is not an option.
“Winter is hard on bicycles and its components. Wash and re-lube after every ride, especially once the roads are being salted,” he recommended.
Warning against the biting cold conditions, Chaplin also suggested ideas for keeping warm.
“Most heat is lost through the head. Find a hat or headband that will fit under your helmet and don’t forget eye protection since rough wind can hurt your eyes and your ability to see,” said Chaplin. “Also, there are thousands of combinations to achieve thermal happiness. I recommend synthetic garments as your best bet, although many cyclists swear by wool. In reality, clothes should just be made of anything but cotton. You can even have your ski clothes double as your bike clothes.”
Although it may be difficult, many people across the Cornell community have still found the motivation to continue biking and recommend that others follow suit.
“I think its great for the environment and everyone should bike more. It’s not too late to learn how to bike, and winter biking is definitely fun as long as you’re careful,” said Wine.
“I bike everywhere, and I really recommend it. I just hope that this winter the conditions don’t get too bad,” said Ahl­holm.
For those interested in learning more about biking, Chaplin recommended a bike skills course open to the Cornell community to teach both experienced bikers and amateurs how to feel more comfortable and confident on a bike.
“The course aims to teach bikers how to be visible and predictable. The students are taught first in the classroom and then actually learn new skills practicing in parking lots and on the street. I also recommend visiting for more additional bicycling information and safety tips,” he said.