I am not by a long shot the first person to ride a bike through the winter in Minneapolis. But in the winter of 2004-05, my first winter on the bike, it was a rare and surprising thing to see another bike track in the snow on my morning and evening commutes or on my weekend recreation rides. When, in those tentative days leading up to my first bicycle winter, I looked for information on winter bicycling, even the world wide web contained limited information about the topic. Sure there were some eccentric inventive types making their own studded tires, and guys with grizzled beards creating special pedal-powered vehicles specifically for snow and ice, but no normal people were involved in this seemingly nutty endeavor. With a successful winter under my belt, the following Spring, I got my first bike shop job at Freewheel. In November of that year, the fellow who did the purchasing at Freewheel told me that I had single-handedly sold more studded tires than they sold the entire previous winter. Winter cycling was apparently catching on in Minneapolis, and I felt like I had a small hand in bringing it into the mainstream (to the extent that any utilitarian cycling is mainstream).
Now, in the winter of 2010-11, I see lots of bike tracks in the snow. In fact, some of the city bike paths are challenging to ride because of the numerous interleaving bike tire ruts that get encrusted into the snow and ice. Even after a fresh snow, I have to be out pretty damned early to have any hope of leaving the first track.
As far as winter cycling conditions go, Sunday, January 30th, 2011, was a perfect day to have a pub crawl. It wasn't warm, but mostly clean, dry streets, little wind, and even some sunshine made it exceedingly pleasant to be outside! And what a fine time it was, spending the entire day riding around town, stopping at intervals to eat and drink, and generally enjoying time with some of my favorite people. Folks came and went, and many did not ride the entire pub crawl, but one informal head-count early in the day put the number of riders at around 40. Imagine that for a minute. An event without a charitable cause or any high-dollar publicity or any race-victory glory at stake draws 40+ people to spend the day riding bikes. In the winter. In Minnesota weather that terrifies most of the country as they see it represented on the Weather Channel by frigid looking blue isotherms dipping down out of Canada.
At the last stop of the evening, as I was making ready to head for home, a half-dozen friends gathered to ride out at the same time, in the same direction. It was well past sundown, and it was certainly chillier than it had been in the mid-afternoon sun. I felt under-dressed and a little cold as I extracted my bike from the snowbank where it was locked to a wrought iron fence. I contemplated taking the train. But the group seemed to collectively veto the train, so we just rode, mostly in silence, lost in our own tired thoughts and trying to pick our lines through icy intersections and around potholes. Close to home, I split from the group and rode a mile or so alone. I was hopped up on the fun of the day and on the exercise-induced hormones flowing in my body. I was thoroughly tired and happy. It occurred to me that, at that moment, I was experiencing something special, something that some future cycling nostalgia-fetishist might possibly refer to in an inflated way as "classic cycling" or some such nonsense. This is the Golden Age of cycling, if you ask me. Keep that in mind.