Bike Czar: What Kind of Weather Shuts You Down? » Urban Milwaukee
Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

What Kind of Weather Shuts You Down?

I ride no matter what, but even bike meccas like Copenhagen have fewer riders in winter. When and why do you stop riding?

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Mar 21st, 2014 02:42 pm
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It was St. Patrick’s Day, and even though there isn’t a drop of Irish blood in my south side Milwaukee lineage, I typically try to get in the spirit and wear a little green. On my bike ride into work, my green pants typically remind me to look for signs of spring like greening grass. This year spring seems on hold, but I pedaled to work in my St. Paddy’s pants even though I knew before I left that the weather was not particularly festive.

St. Patrick’s Day, 2012: 70 degrees and sunny

Two years ago I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by bare-handing it on my ride to work.

Two years ago I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by bare-handing it on my ride to work.

A year ago, I was complaining about the long winter in my post titled Uncle! No more snow please.

Same day, same pants, different bike, different destination – my wife and I on our way to McBob’s for corned beef, and definitely different weather than the year before.

Same day, same pants, different bike, different destination – my wife and I on our way to McBob’s for corned beef, and definitely different weather than the year before.

2014, record winter cold and snow, but I resolve not to complain.

Same pants, same coat, same weather – remind me not to complain again next year.

Same pants, same coat, same weather – remind me not to complain again next year.

I looked up the average Milwaukee weather for March 17th and it turns out 2012 was a serious anomaly. St. Patrick’s Day revelers in southern Wisconsin are greeted by a a cloudy day 89% of the time, and the normal high is 43.  That information helped put this year in perspective, and left me wondering what effect minor fluctuations in the weather have on how other people ride their bikes.

The weather forecast is very important to me, because I ride no matter what and I need to plan what I am going to wear to bike through whatever nature has in store for the day’s commute. Over the years I have stocked a work wardrobe so I can dress appropriately, but comfortably for every kind of weather. I also have a closet over-flowing with different weight jackets, hats, boots, gloves and scarves. I even have a toolbox of different bikes from which I can pick just the right ride for the conditions, rain, sleet, snow, ice and of course, sunny warm weather (if that ever comes).

shouldiride.com said I should ride today.

shouldiride.com said I should ride today.

I know I am on the extreme end of the bike commuting spectrum, though, as most people don’t ride in crummy weather. Even bicycle meccas like Copenhagen, where 36 percent of people bike to work, loses 20 percent to 30 percent of them (mostly to transit) in the winter. Even bicycle crazy Portland, OR (6 percent commute by bike) sees a 23 percent drop in two-wheeled traffic in heavy rain. The highest bicycle mode share of any major city in the US is in Davis, CA at 19.1 percent and they do see 20 inches of precipitation per year.

While climates vary and you can argue about climate change all you want, bicycle use is on the rise in communities across the US, in part do to changing preferences, but mostly because of improved facilities. As the use of bicycles for transportation has grown, so has weather forecasting for people who ride, like the aptly titled ShouldIBike.com. My current favorite is 2WheelWeather.com. I learned about this bicycle specific forecasting website when I volunteered at the MORC table next to Kristin Clark at QBP’s Frostbike. Kristin is an avid mountain biker and a professional meteorologist for WheelWeather.cow. She even gives customized long-term future forecasts for bicycle event organizers. See below for a sample forecast for the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout Fatbike Race.

I get teased because I ride even in blizzard conditions and even 70 mph wind gusts, but I am curious what sorts of weather limits “normal people” from riding. I thought it would be fun to hear examples from readers of what extreme weather you have ridden through and what kind of forecasts put the brakes on your commute to work.

This article was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Categories: Bike Czar

3 thoughts on “Bike Czar: What Kind of Weather Shuts You Down?”

  1. Bill says:

    I bike all winter, even on the sub zero days… but I can’t stand riding in a cold downpour. I even have decent rain gear to ride in, but it’s always just as miserable to me. That’s when the MCTS bike racks are a life saver!

  2. K says:

    I usually bike unless it’s below 15 degrees or snowing heavily. I will do it if I have to, but I absolutely hate wearing face masks and I find that 15 is about the cutoff where I don’t feel like I need one. Also extreme wind in my face on an uphill route means I’m probably going to puss out and hop the bus.

  3. D'nardo says:

    I average 2 bike commutes per week in winter. What stops me most is wind and sideways rain. I’m fine into the single digits as long add my ears are covered.

    I used to say that skinny tires were the best, like knife blades through slush. Then I dumped on a patch of ice last spring and am just now recovered. I’m a complete coward now! Stuffed tires are clearly I’m my future.

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