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In Living Commentary

Riding through winter may seem daunting, but it is not an impossibility. (Photo: isepaga (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Commuters get prepared for winter at the Winter Cycling Forum and Dance Party

The Milwaukee Bicycle Collective's Third Annual Winter Cycling Forum and Dance Party is happening this Thursday, Dec. 8 at the Riverwest Public House. Considering the mild start we've had so far, and the fat white flakes that were falling this morning, the timing could hardly be more perfect.

Running the show this year is Bike Collective volunteer Carolyn Weber. When I asked her what compelled her to consider riding a bike through the winter she admitted that it was actually a matter of convenience.

"I started winter riding four winters ago because I lived by the 21 bus line, which didn't go to UWM on the weekends when I worked. I didn't start with much gear, just a dedicated winter bike for $100, my winter jacket, gloves, scarf and my first helmet - I hadn't been wearing one up to that point."

Putting two wheels to the pavement during Milwaukee's least friendly season can seem like a daunting task with threats of ice hidden under snow, buried bike lanes and sub zero temperatures, but it's rare when you actually experience that perfect storm. Even then, Weber insists, misery doesn't have to take over.

"My favorite winter memory is looking over the Lakefront Brewery on the Milwaukee River on the Holton Marsupial Bridge on a -10 degree day. The lights on the ice and the bridge created this moment of tranquility and peace that I only find when I'm outdoors during the winter months."

Volunteer Sam Dodge agrees.

"At some point, you begin to realize the joy and freedom of cycling in the winter, and you look forward to every crisp morning and fresh snowfall."

What is the key to getting to that point?

"Take it slow and easy, don't get freaked out by little slips and slides along the way," he says. "Just like learning how to handle a car in snow, learning the balance and technique of riding a bicycle in winter takes a little time."

Weber has three more suggestions for gear to get you started:

1. Choose a bike that you designate as a winter bike. The salt on the roads will destroy a bike over time, even with good care. I don't ride my favorite bikes during the winter and when I do, I clean them often, especially at the end of the winter. I also ride a studded tire to help with ice. Make sure you have bright lights on your bike for cars to see you.

2. Essential equipment are my ski goggles with a ski helmet and ski mittens. They make it possible for me to bike as low as -40 with wind chill these last two winters.

3. Wool clothing helps by wicking sweat (and yes I sweat more during the winter with multiple layers), and it keeps you warmer when it's wet. A windproof and waterproof jacket has made it possible to eliminate a layer and keep me warmer even in cold wind chill. I didn't spend much on clothing; often I find great clothing on clearance and in thrift stores.

If you're interested in learning more, be sure to check out the Winter Cycling Forum. It starts at 6 p.m. with a panel discussion with winter cycling veterans from bike shops from all around the city including Truly Spoken Cycles, Ben's Cycles, Cory the Bike Fixer and Wheel and Sprocket. They'll school you on how to dress to stay warm on any budget, how to take care of you bike, and how to take care of yourself. This is followed by a DJ and dance party at 9 p.m. as well as a raffle for a chance to win gift certificates and prizes to several area bike shops, including a full bicycle from the Bike Collective.

Once you've gotten a few tips for staying warm under your belt celebrate by joining more than 200 Santas for the Third Annual Santa Cycle Rampage.

Admission to the Winter Cycling Forum and Dance Party is $5 with all proceeds going to benefit the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective. Click here to find more details about the event or RSVP.


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