In a country where four-wheeled transportation rules the roads, it's enlightening to learn how many people depend on their bikes to get to work, school, stores and other necessary destinations. Trips by bike more than doubled between 2001 and 2009, from almost two billion to four billion. And the greatest increases aren't all in the warmer, bike-weather friendly southern and western states; the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states showed significant increases in both the number of commuting cyclists and designated BFCs (Bicycle Friendly Communities). Continued emphasis on the environment and health concerns means more cyclists on the road, even in weather many consider a time to bring the bike inside the garage.
Don't store it, stay on it: five winter cycling tips
Rules of the road
Check road conditions before you travel; you city or county government website broadcasts which roads are plowed and salted and which remain snowed it. Make sure your bike's front and rear light systems work; you'll need them for dusk and dawn riding on these shorter days. Carry an extra tube and patch kit in case you puncture a tire; debris easily seen in summer hides under slush and snow and causes damage before you're able to avoid it.
Dress the part
The key to staying warm yet light is layering with arm and leg warmers, gloves and balaclava to protect your body's core, head and hands. You need a bike pack to stash clothes as you remove or add them along the way. Choose light, reflective colors or use reflective tape around your arms, legs and on your helmet for greater visibility.
Keep it clean and safe
Invest in a spray-on bike cleaner and clean the mud and salt off your bike every day. Use chain lube (not a degreaser product, which cleans but doesn't lubricate) for your bike chain, and never let the bike stay wet. Check tire pressure and wear regularly and inspect the wheels and frame for broken spokes or cracks.
Other people's dangerous driving
Hazardous driving conditions should make people slow down. But the determination to send that text, answer that call or take that sip of coffee means plenty of vehicular hazards out there. And that's in addition to people who don't have snow tires or chains on, or never learned Winter Driving 101. Obey the cycling rules of the road: ride with traffic, use hand signals, stop at stop signs and red lights and walk across busy intersections.
At attention: no texting, phone or music
On your bike means no airbags or aluminum and steel cage protecting you. Forget earbuds or hand-free anything. A safe commute commands your full attention. When it comes to cycling safety, whatever needs reading, sending or answering waits until you're at work.