Thoughts of fresh snow and chilly temperatures are more likely to get you running for hot cocoa than your 10-speed, but that shouldn't be the case say Volunteers at the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective, who are holding a special meeting tonight for would-be winter bicycle warriors.
A 6:30 p.m. meeting tonight at Transfer Pizzeria, 101 W. Mitchell St., will offer free pizza and prizes in addition to copious information for riders curious about pedaling their way through winter.
While veteran winter riders acknowledge that tackling that first winter on your bike can seem daunting, they say the physical, mental and economic rewards are substantial.
"It takes a lot of guts to do it but when it becomes a daily part of your life it's not that hard," said Earl Serafica, an employee at Ben's Cycle and Fitness, 1018 W. Lincoln Ave. and one of the speakers at tonight's event.
With proper gear and preparation riding year round is not only possible but also fun and exhilarating, they said.
Serafica and other speakers from tonight's event gave some basic tips and incentives for those not ready to stow away their bikes in the basement.
Why cycle in winter?
"It definitely helps to keep the winter blues away because you get out there and you are actually exercising at a time when you just kind of want to hole up," said Jason McDowell, one of the collective's lead volunteers (and OnMilwaukee.com's on-staff graphic designer).
Besides the obvious physical results, winter riders say there is a more abstract exhilaration they get out of their winter commute.
"Its a completely different beast. It's actually really enjoyable," Serafica said. "It gets you outside and fresh air is always a good thing... All the natural things, getting some sunlight."
And while maneuvering your car through the ice and snow can be tricky with all that momentum, bikes are relatively safe and controllable.
"Winter is a time that destroys the underbelly of a car. In addition, that's when more fender benders and accidents happen," said Aytan Luck, owner of Truly Spoken Cycles, 833 E. Center St., who added, "I think in really bad weather a bike is actually easier to control and easier to park in winter."
Serafica, who leaves his Honda Civic at home in favor of his bike during the winter, agreed.
"If done right it can be safer than driving a car. With the right gear, the right lights and the right mindset you are a little more in control. I have driven my car in the winter and it's not very fun," Serafica said.
And while losing control of your bike and falling is a common concern for those who are afraid to bike in the snow, Serafica said falling in winter can be the safest time of year.
"If you are riding a bike in the winter and you fall down just make a snow angel and get back up if you make a mistake in a car you can't really control it that much," he said.
What should you wear?
"Wool clothing is something that is breathable in winter but it still keeps you really warm when it's wet. Cotton is not a good material to wear in cold and wet conditions, " Luck said.
Besides being warm and having wicking features, wool clothing can also be found at a thrift store or for a lot less than more expensive specialized winter cycling gear and it reduces odor, McDowell said.
"It usually has to be washed only occasionally because it's good at absorbing odors. So you can wash it once every six months or something. It doesn't require a lot of maintenance," McDowell said.
Of course keeping the elements at bay is crucial.
"Covering up all exposed skin is always a good idea and wrapping yourself in a way that prevents wind from getting into your clothes is important," said McDowell, "Keeping all that heat retained in one place is good and you don't want to let it out."
Luck recommended purchasing neoprene shoe covers which keep your feet warm and dry by deflecting any snow that may get sprayed at them.
And while it's important to dress warm, it's important to remember that cycling will raise your body temperature substantially.
"You want to dress and think about how you are going to feel five minutes from now. It's always going to be cold when you start out... but after after your legs have been spinning for five minutes and your body has been moving you are going to heat up," McDowell said.
McDowell also said a good pair of ski goggles can help keep wind off your face and make you feel a lot warmer.
What bike should I ride and how do I care for it?
Road salt can take a toll on your bike frame and hardware. If possible getting a cheap bicycle that you don't mind losing to rust is advisable. Cruiser bikes and mountain bikes with a lower profile handle a little better than taller road frames, Serafica said.
When it comes to braking there are a number of options that work better than the classic rubber brake pads, they said.
Disk brakes, drum brakes and fixed-gear set ups all give you better traction and braking ability under wet conditions, and tires with metal studs designed for winter riding can also improve bike control.
Front and rear fenders will help deflect spray from your tires.
And with proper maintenance it's not inevitable to lose your bike to winter rust.
"On those really bad days when you are out it's important to just take a few minutes to clean up. You can take an old shirt and wipe down your chain and add some lubrication to it. You may have to replace your chain at the end of winter, but thats a lot cheaper than driving your car," Luck said.
McDowell advised bringing your bike into the shower for a quick spray down from time to time.
Ultimately, getting ready to cycle in winter weather is cheaper, easier and more fun than you may think, McDowell said.
"I don't honestly think that riding through the winter is that crazy," McDowell said. "I first started out with just a jacket, a scarf a hat and some gloves and that's it. It just goes to show that under most circumstances it's possible to do."