The Winter Cycling Community

While I was taking this shot, hunched over Betty Foy to balance my camera on the saddle, two separate passing cyclists asked if everything was okay. Yes, thank you! This random kindness reminded me how strong the Chicago cycling community remains even in the winter.

Sometimes while waiting at a light I find myself flanked by two or three other people on bikes. Note that I said “waiting” at a light – winter cyclists as a group seem more responsible than the influx of summer cyclists. The percentage of men vs. women is definitely more skewed toward men in the winter, but plenty of women are out there, too. Friendliness is all over the map, with some people striking up whole conversations and others completely ignoring my chipper “Good mornings.”

Overall, I am impressed by the number of winter cyclists and feel that the worse the weather, the stronger our collective bond. That’s one reason why events such as today’s Winter Bike to Work Day hosted by the Active Transportation Alliance – complete with coffee and cheesecake – are so great.

How is the winter cycling community where you live? Is there one?

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33 thoughts on “The Winter Cycling Community

  1. Gorgeous picture, Dottie. No real winter cycling community in my town – most people on bikes ride them because they don’t own cars (or driver’s licenses). And then the weather’s not drastic enough to act as a bond. But cyclists of all kinds usually give each other a nod and a secret grin.

    I notice you’re riding the Betty Foy on winter roads. How does she compare to the Oma for 4-season riding? Do you mind not having a chain guard on the Foy?

  2. Dottie says:

    @Imaginary Bicycle – Interesting to hear how different the experience can be in other cities.

    I haven’t really been riding Betty on winter roads. This week has been much warmer than usual, mostly in the high 20’s and 30’s. The streets have been totally clear of snow and ice. Prior to last Saturday, I had not pulled Betty out since the first snowfall. As you mention, there is no chaincase. Also, the gearing and brakes are not internal and she does not have studded tires. Most of all, I baby her gorgeous paint job too much to ride expose her to all the salt (or grit in Brit speak :)) thrown down to melt ice.

  3. Every five years or so Arcata gets a day of snow. Winter on the Northern California coast means rain, and lots of it. Today it blew in sideways off the Pacific in 40 mph gusts. Trees toppled and power failed sporadically. Nevertheless, I saw several intrepid cyclists in bright yellow rain suits beating a path through the rain.

  4. Dottie says:

    @Gordon Inkeles – Ooh, rain is the hardest weather for me to deal with. I love the vision of all the yellow spots floating through the downpour.

  5. Anne Hawley says:

    Our winter in Portland this year has been mostly mild, with wind and rain being the biggest hazards.

    It’s my first winter cycling. I definitely get more friendly nods and greetings from fellow winter commuters than I did in the late summer and fall. More walkers and runners smile, too–we’re *all* pretty cool to be out enjoying the fresh air this time of year!

  6. Christa says:

    Winter cycling? What’s that?

    In this rare rain storm I see more yellow and reflective apparel. But generally, I see a strong bike community year-round in Santa Barbara.

  7. dukiebiddle says:

    “winter cyclists as a group seem more responsible than the influx of summer cyclists”

    I’m definitely more observant of red lights in the winter. Last time I ran a red light in winter I hit some black ice in the intersection and almost took a tumble. I’m unconvinced that my more interpretive observation of traffic signals in summer is less responsible. Poor ambassadorship, definitely, as it pisses off drivers to no end, but oftentimes safer in the absence of bicycle infrastructure.

  8. neighbourtease says:

    I see some of the same cyclists on my regular route and they are almost always nice, rain or shine, winter or summer. What I do notice is that drivers are nicer, especially if it’s super cold or raining. I do see far fewer women in the winter and I do feel like men are especially solicitous with me and smiley. Not in a creepy way. It’s nice. Like the community of it $^%*ing freezing.

    I’ve also noticed that the people who cycle in the winter are way way more geared out. Lots of cycling-specific clothes and bright colors, even if worn over work clothes.

    It’s been an incredibly cold, sunny and bright winter apart from a few insanely snowy days (here in NYC).

  9. Merlin says:

    There is a year round community around my trek to work but it was interesting to see that those numbers rose during the recent snow… I wonder if they will all keep it up now the snow has gone?

  10. Beany says:

    It has been raining all week here in San Diego. El Nino storms or some such thing is the culprit. I’ve been riding in the rain and having the time of my life. I’m a bit more inland than the coast so I haven’t experienced the crazy wind gusts and so on.

  11. Beany says:

    The community? I seem to be the only chipper person on a bike greeting everyone. Occasionally I’ll chat up a nice lady on a bike, but all the speedy Gonzalezes? They have to make time as they plan on being the next Lance so they don’t have the time to be greeting some idiot going 8 mph.

    There are a few handful of commuters I see on a daily basis though. Not always the same ones.

  12. Winter on the prairies is pretty traditional – cold, snow, and lots of ice due to the freeze/thaw cycle. Here is Calgary, we are really fortunate because the city makes a big effort to plow large sections of the regional pathways all winter long. In fact they do such a good job of plowing that many times the pathways are cleared before the roadways!

    Every year the city adds more miles to their plowing schedule and it seems to be encouraging people to try riding in the winter – based simply on all the tire tracks i see in the snow.

    One thing I find really handy is the local advocacy group – Bike – has a website/forum that riders are always chatting on and posting info about route conditions, dangerous sections, and winter riding stories. It is great to read about everyone else’s winter riding adventures. That site has done a lot to help connect riders here and has helped strengthen our community too.

    I love winter!

  13. i wish i had more of a winter cycling community!! there are some people are town (my boyfriend included) who ride daily, but often on campus, all you get are undergraduates without mittens riding rusty wal mart mountain bikes. sigh.

  14. Lucas says:

    Winter cycling in and around the Boston area is certainly fickle. There are some days when the weather is nice and clear (albeit cold … 10º-15ºF) when you would expect people to be out, but there is no one; while on the other hand there are the days that it is snowy and messy and everyone seems to be out. Now, this could easily be my perception as I am more apt to notice people when the weather is worse… but you never know. Of course, these days are the oddity, and I would say that, overall, there is a pretty consistent group of Winter cyclists in the area, and I cannot say that it overly-favors one gender over the other or one type of cyclist over another… though I have not seen many “roadies” since the snow started flying ;)

    Still a lot of joggers on the River paths, though… especially on my evening commute!

  15. Bryan says:

    My commute here in Milwaukee is a little bit off the beaten path. As a result, I see very few commuters until I enter the downtown area, where I’ll notice a couple of people here and there on their bikes. I try to wave. Mostly, it’s lonely out there on the streets. I’m enjoying the decent weather lately, though!

  16. dukiebiddle says:

    Undergraduates without mittens riding rusty wal mart mountain bikes are still cyclists.

  17. Dave says:

    Portland has pretty mild winters, so the ridership I don’t think changes too much through autumn/winter/spring, since it’s often cloudy and rainy most of that time. I feel like, at least in the places I go on a regular basis, I have seen notably more people out riding, and more bikes parked this autumn/winter than I did last year.

    In terms of community, I think Portland is strong in the sense that there is a large group of people pushing for cycling issues and involving themselves in different cycling events and such, and I’ve also had some really good experiences, like a homeless guy with a bike and another morning commuter who stopped to help me change a flat once when my tire iron broke on me (by the way, Schwalbe tires have an incredibly tight bead).

    I don’t find that I have much interaction with people in general when I’m out riding, I feel like people tend to be a bit reluctant to interact – but I think I have more positive interaction with pedestrians than other cyclists, in general. There are a few people I pass on a regular basis in the mornings out walking their dogs or just walking by themselves that I often smile and say hi to and get the same in return, but most cyclists, if anything, just nod impassively as they blow past me (I’m not a fast rider). Sometimes stopped at lights or whatever, we’ll have a quick chat, but often there too, everyone just watches the light, waiting.

  18. Catherine says:

    I wouldn’t know. I wimped out of the commute on or about December 2. My current state of “just around town” cycling is no different than it was before–I see people on bikes and they see me but that’s about it. I wonder if there’s more of a camaraderie “we’re all in this together” feeling on the trail?

    I got some Under Armor and a nice down-lined trench coat (Weather Edge Girl on the Go Trench from Eddie Bauer) for Christmas (yes, nearly a month ago…I’ve been slow at getting back in the saddle). I’m going to give the winter commute another shot or two before packing it in until the lows are in the high 30s.

  19. I agree with Lucas’s comment earlier about Boston: I always seem to see the most cyclists out on the worst days! I don’t think there is a community per se, but local bike shops seem to be good places to find supportive people hanging out who also commute in the winter.

  20. David says:

    We have a great winter cycling community here in Madison, Wi..

    I remember one of the first big “storms”, it was pretty nasty for cars and bikes alike. I came to one of my least favorite intersections – an on ramp to the beltine, kind of a freeway here.
    Anway, I stopped at the top of the ramp a the light. And another biker came up along side of me! And I was like, yeah!, winter cycling baby. He said to me “this would be pretty fun, if it wasn’t far all these cars”. He was right, the cars make you nervous.

    Anyway, I’m still out with a broken collarbone until the doc says I can ride again. But I’m keeping in shape on a stationary, until I can hit the road commuting again.


  21. David says:


    Wish I was there……. Love that town. Went surfing there once. I rented a bike too. I didn’t see much in the way of bike paths in that town when I was there. Maybe i wasn’t in the right parts.

  22. Ryan says:

    Here in St Catharines, Ontario (in between Buffalo & Toronto) we have a fairly poor winter cycling community.

    Year round most cyclists keep to themselves. Only when I’m downtown at the library do I ever talk to other cyclists.
    And despite being a dry and mild winter, I haven’t seen all that many bikes out this year.

  23. @Dottie – A bicycle cape puts you and most of your bike, inside a cozy tent. If you add rain booties, the only thing that gets wet is your face.

  24. sara says:

    I have been excited to see the numbers of cyclists throughout this winter. It’s fun to see how differently folks gear up in the cold weather. My favorite cyclist this winter (besides my husband & boys, of course) is an older gentleman who wears a red helmet with a flip down visor–not really a heavy duty motorcycle helmet but some old school helmet that makes me smile each time I see him. I suspect the helmet is more about protecting his face from the cold winds than necessarily protecting his noggin. I DO so wish that more winter cyclists here would equip their bikes and themselves with lights. It bums me out to see all the cyclists riding in the dark winter evenings with no/insufficient lights.

  25. That’s awesome! There aren’t too many cyclers in SLC during the winter. There’s a few handful but it seems like they are pretty friendly with each other.

  26. Matt says:

    It’s Winter?

    You lot from a different half of the planet or something?

  27. Liset says:

    What an amazing picture! In Amsterdam, there is not such a thing as a ‘winter community’ as there are the same amount of bikes as in the summer. We just put our coat on, hat on and we bike even when it snows or rains. So funny to read that there is such a difference about cycling in the rest of the world! :)

  28. Academichic says:

    Dottie, as you know I’m in Munich, Germany right now. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there has been almost no real difference between the amount of cyclists on the roads now and back in the fall when I arrived here. People keep on cycling through the winter, the bike lanes get cleared and people trudge on. In fact, my mail gets delivered by mailmen on bikes and it’s kept coming via bike all through out the winter and in the snow. They just ride their mail carrier bikes slowly and carefully but it doesn’t seem like there ever an issue as to whether one should ride in the winter or not.

    I’ve found that really exciting and inspiring. I think people who think that winter cycling is some kind of extreme sport or adventure should see how that’s just a normal way of commuting all year round in certain cultures/countries. That puts it really in perspective.

    Great post and food for thought as always!

  29. Sox says:

    I’ve seen more people on bikes this winter than any other. Judging by comments I read on the editorial pages of the local news sources, the hardcore driving community doesn’t like it, but I hope they will evolve.

  30. Long time no visit for me – Hope all is well.

    nice picture of the skyline – balanced perfectly with land,water and sky as well as being shot without blur.

    Anyway, out here in Denver, Colorado I do not think there is really a cycling community in the winter. Though I would be first to admit I have not even looked/researched to see if there is.

    I’m more or a solo person, as well as other winter riders – we have our winter events – cyclocross, duathlons (run/bike – snow, ice, goes on regardless of weather conditions). And I do not have a desire to being a part of a winter bike community group.

    The Mountain bike riders are out also.

    I am out on the outer skirts(suburbs) of Denver so I hardly run into other bike riders. And if I do happen to see another rider more often than not we are too focus riding and watching where we are biking as well as the traffic around us. Ice in the gutters, Ice/snow on the West and south sidewalks due to being in the shade most of the day. potholes. black ice at night and early mornings.

    Though there are a couple of reservoirs nearby and I do see a lot of bike road riders practicing / training and we are a group – in an confined area, but not really a group per se. We are there to train and show how hard core we are in the winters of Colorado.

    Until the next time

    Daryl Charley
    The Fallen Athlete

  31. […] you’ll be the only bicyclist out there, maybe not.  You may find and appreciate a whole winter cycling community or just enjoy the alone time.  Even if there aren’t many other winter cyclists, you’re bound […]

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