Snow is no hazard for those who Bike Winter

While most of us allow the falling temperatures to flatten our ambition, some Milwaukeeans think that there's no time like tundra time to hop on their bikes and go for a ride.

Published December 3, 2007 by OnMilwaukee.com
By Michael Seidel

While most of us allow the falling temperatures to flatten our ambition, some Milwaukeeans think that there's no time like tundra time to hop on their bikes and go for a ride.

"I tell Mother Nature, 'You're not going to bum me out by keeping me inside!'" says Bill Rouleau, owner of Rush-Mor Records, 2635 S. Kinnickinnic Ave, who started riding through the winter in 1990. "If you let the winter get you down, you're going to be bummed out for three or four months."

Shea Schachameyer, project coordinator for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, notes that there has been an influx in the number of year-round cyclists, proving that many Milwaukeeans share Rouleau's anti-cabin fever stance.

As a way of growing its cold weather biking community, Milwaukee is part of a loose contingent of Midwestern cities — including Madison — that participate in a season-long event called Bike Winter. The goal of Bike Winter is to help people stave off the chill and keep active by hitting the streets in even the worst weather.

Anyone with a little organizational acumen can arrange an event and post an announcement on Milwaukee Bike Winter calendar. Most of the events are free — if there is a cost, the money is donated to pro-cycling causes — and all are open to the public.

Two of Milwaukee's more popular Bike Winter events are the Santa Cycle Rampage and the Bicycle Polar Plunge.

During the Santa Cycle Rampage, riders reign in the season dressed like Claus while pedaling through the streets, boisterously wishing the passersby a happy holiday. This year, the event begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 at Cafe Hollander, 2608 N. Downer Ave.

Rouleau inaugurated the Bicycle Polar Plunge last New Year's Day because, "Every year I got badgered into doing a polar bear run, and I'm like, 'No!' If I actually had to plod into the frozen water, I'd never do it."

To avoid a slow submersion, Rouleau decided that jumping his bike off a pier directly into Lake Michigan would be the quickest way to get it over with. This year's Plunge starts at 11 a.m. on Jan. 1 at the Bay View Post, 2860 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. There will be a ride around the streets of Bay View before the city's bravest riders launch into the lake. Spectators are welcome.

Lobbing oneself into the lake in January is an extreme act likely to send a shiver through most sane peoples' bodies. But not all winter riding has to be that extreme, or that cold. If you dress properly, it's actually very difficult to get intolerably cold. Newbies often overcompensate and find themselves having to shed layers mid-ride. Schachameyer advises that it's best to "dress for five minutes after you start, because you're totally going to heat up."

Of course, like anything, getting clothes for winter cycling can be as expensive or inexpensive as you make it. Bike Winter's Web site, as well as other sites like icebike.com, offer tips and tricks on dressing for cold-weather riding, and explain how to get the necessary items on the cheap. You can get what you need to stay warm at thrift stores like Thrifty's, 1730 S. 13th St., or at Army Navy Surplus Sales, 707 W. Wisconsin Ave.

If your bank account allows, you can splurge on more costly, cycle-specific Gore-Tex and polypropylene gear at local bike stores like Ben's Cycle, 1018 W. Lincoln Ave., or Rainbow Jersey, 4604 N. Wilson Dr.

Winter cycling means different things to different people. Some people only mount their bikes to participate in official Bike Winter events. Some commute to work by bike. Some take short weekend jaunts to the cafe or corner store. Riding in the winter does not require you to become a die-hard.

"Saying that you're going to bike in the winter doesn't have to mean you have to bike every day," Schachameyer says. "You don't have to bike in a blizzard to bike in the winter. The concept is, just don't put your bike in the basement and then pull it out in May."