Students pedal on during winter months
By Samuel Bautista
Winter in Chicago is a time when people bundle up and try to stay warm at all costs. However, there are a few brave souls that continue to bike, even in the snow.
For example, nearly 45,000 bike trips were taken in December through Divvy, a bike share company — an impressive number, as the company closed its system for more than a week that month.
Dom Hernandez said he doesn’t see a few inches of snow slowing his bike down in the winter.
“It’s more fun to ride in the snow and cold than it is in the hot, Chicago summer,” said Hernandez, 22, a marketing major at Loyola University Chicago. “In the winter, the [exercise] you do from biking keeps you insulated from the cold, but you can’t do anything about the heat in the summertime.”
“Biking is my form of transportation, so I don’t have a choice as to how I commute,” said Hernandez, who has been biking daily for five years. “Biking in the winter is so much fun, plus I always get the best parking.”
Hernandez is not alone as a winter biking fanatic.
Andres Jacome, 21, is an education major student at DePaul University. He began biking in high school when he received a Mongoose bike for his birthday. Since then, he has biked daily to school.
“Nothing has slowed me down, except the blizzard we had a couple years ago,” said a grinning Jacome. “The best experience I’ve had biking in the winter has really been not being slowed down by public transportation.”
“People always say how are you not cold? Well, I have my insulated jacket on and I’m making my body work for heat. You have to be prepared in the winter in order to bike. Maintenance of your bike is key and so is your safety,” Jacome said.
Jacome recommended that anyone who wants to bike in the winter purchase a chain lube, which retails for about $5. In the wintertime, bikes are exposed to the snow, salt and dirt, which will affect the performance of your bicycle. Using the lube with a cloth to clean the chain and wheels of your bike minimizes rust to exposed parts. It can also be applied to the lock to prevent freezing.
Devoted bikers also spend money on a winter set of tires. Studded, full-knob tires can set you back $100, but they have grip on all icy conditions and tread through the snow. Jacome keeps a pair for the wintertime knowing it’s a good investment.
The biggest threat to bicyclists is motorists. According to the City of Chicago’s 2012 bike crash report, the most recent data available, less than 10 percent of accidents with motorists occurred in the winter months, with the most coming during the high-traffic months of June and August. The data from the report acknowledges that the winter conditions lead to more cautious drivers.
Divvy had seven reported accidents from the nearly 800,000 trips taken from July to January. Motorists take more precautions in the slick winter conditions than in the summer months, when 45 percent of bike accidents occurred.
Even with fewer accident reports for the winter, safety should always be a priority.
“The roads are slick not just for us, so be safe out there and wear a helmet,” Jacome said. “People don’t like to wear helmets for dumb reasons, but if you don’t look out for yourself then no one will.”
Jacome spent $900 on his new bike in 2011.
“I spent a good two checks or three on it, but it was worth it” he said. “I bought it at REI and I looked at articles they wrote about biking. I was really lost at first, but I wanted to learn how to bike and be safe in the snow,” Jacome said.
Hernandez recommends checking out smaller shops such as The Rapid Transit Cycle Shop, which runs a blog where they inform customers and Chicago bike riders about safety, gifts for biking commuters, and winter tips.
A tip recommended for those looking to bike in the winter is buying reflectors. While visibility in the snow is low, you should still try to make yourself be seen. Reflectors and lights let drivers know where you are. Signaling is also important to remember.
“I obey the rules of the road as if I was driving, but I’m willing to bet I get to my destination first before a driver in the winter time,” Hernandez said.
But is there anything that can slow either of them down?
“My mom, said Hernandez with a laugh. “She always tells me to be careful, but I can tell she doesn’t approve of it. She actually has tried to talk to my dad to convince me to stop biking.”