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A daredevil? No. Just a winter biker

  • Winter biking in Chicago
Winter biking in Chicago (Chicago Tribune file photo )
January 12, 2012|By Ryan Smith, For RedEye

"What are you doing riding in the snow?" he yelled. "Are you an idiot? It's time to put the bike away."

I'd smacked abruptly into a just-opened car door, tumbling face-first off my bike and onto a frost-covered side street near my Logan Square apartment a couple of Januarys ago—but the elderly man who rudely introduced me to his Cadillac had the nerve to blame me for the accident.

Most people probably wouldn't door me to make the point, but the consensus I get from friends is that I probably should give up winter biking in Chicago.

Look, I get it. We may live in a bike-friendly city that is only becoming more so under Emperor Rahm, but there are plenty of legit reasons why most of my fellow cyclists happily trade in their two-wheeled vehicle for a CTA card or a Ford Fiesta as soon the first snowflake hits the pavement.

Biking in the winter means braving bone-chilling temperatures during a season in which the sun seems to shine for about an hour and a half a day. It's about fending off swirling winds that snap and bite at every inch of exposed skin like a vampire seeking out a new victim. It's navigating the usual seasonal brew of snowy street sludge and slick spots like the captain of the Titanic haphazardly trying to avoid icy disaster.

That's not to mention all the pre- and post-ride preparation.

Dressing to stay warm is a study in patience that involves insulating yourself in so many extra layers, masks, scarves and other accouterments that you begin to resemble something between an Olympics skier and a mummy.

To top it off, you have to regularly scrub your bike clean of all of the grime and chemical de-icers the city liberally dumps on the streets.

Yet after four years of traversing Chicago on two wheels through Mother Nature's worst moods, I'm here to tell you that cycling during the months between Christmas to Easter is better than you imagine.

Here's why:

The streets are yours

During the summer, overcrowded routes such as the lakefront path and parts of Milwaukee Avenue turn biking into a giant game of "Frogger" in which you're constantly weaving and darting your way through other cyclists. In the winter, bike lanes are far more free and open.

What CTA rush?

Speaking of overcrowding, Chicago buses and trains in the winter months become one big, frowny mass of humanity uncomfortably wedged between men with oversized coats and the lady who keeps hitting people in the face with her scarf.

No winter weight gain

Yeah, we pig out during the holidays, but a lack of exercise also contributes to our need to make New Year's resolutions to lose weight. Biking in the winter is an efficient way of fending off the chubbiness, especially because your body burns extra calories to stay warm in addition to the exercise you get from pedaling.

It's an urban adventure

The word "adventure" is overused. Sorry, but checking out a new restaurant or bar you found on Yelp does not qualify. But cycling through the snow, ice, cold and muck delivers quite a rush of adrenaline.


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