On a recent snowy winter morning, I spotted Shelly Pearson cycling on the bike path along Memorial drive in Cambridge. As she approached, it was pretty clear she knew what I wanted to talk to her about.
“This is not the best weather to commute in,” she said, laughing, as she slowed to a stop.
And yet, there she was on her bicycle navigating a snowy path in the cold on her way to the Riverside Boathouse for rowing training.
“I don’t have a car and there’s no public transport to riverside along this route,” she explained. “Otherwise it’s walking and that’s really far.”
Pearson isn’t the only biker on Boston area roads in the winter and many of them, such as Ryan Flament of Watertown, choose their bikes over their cars or the MBTA.
“I don’t like driving around the city,” he said. “And to be honest on the big storms that we’ve had this year I think I’ve gotten home faster on bicycle than some of the motorist who have to deal with high congestion and slow moving vehicles.
David Winner said he bikes daily from Somerville to Harvard Square for the exercise and sense of accomplishment he feels from his daily rides.
“I like the camaraderie of seeing other cyclists and knowing that on a day like this week it’s been so cold. You sort of feel like you’re in the minority, which is a nice feeling.”
Winner and his fellow winter bikers are in the minority for good reason. Biking in the winter is not easy. There is the cold, for starters, which many bikers- including Winner- told me is actually the least of their worries.
“It's just a matter of how you have to dress for the weather,” he said.
In winter, that means layers. From smart wool bases, long-johns and tights, to sweaters, vests, and jackets under windproof jackets; from scarves, face masks, and helmets to lined waterproof gloves and ski goggles.
Flament explained that he’s more worried about the things he can’t control.
“When you’re out on the trail l you can hit ice so you need to be a little more aware of those things,” he said.
And then there’s the snow. Pearson recalled the storm just before Christmas that dumped about 8 inches on the Boston area, much of it during the evening commute.
“It was pretty scary being along the cars and I had to go over snow bank – walk my bike over a snow bank to get to the road,” she said. “I thought my fingers were going to get frostbite.”
But Winner said that the real danger for bikers is that, for two-wheeled commuters, the effects of a snow storm can linger for days, even weeks.
“The road becomes narrower, because there’s all this snow plowed up along the side of the road so there’s much less room for both the cars and the cyclists to get through,” he said.
Those conditions can force bicyclists to ride in the road itself along with motor vehicles.
“The motorists get a little testy, because they think that they should have the road," said Winner. “So they have to be a little more careful and you have to be respectful of pedestrians and motorists. Don’t weave around and act crazy, but most of all act like you have a right to be there and claim your space.”
If biking in the winter seems like it’s only for the adventurous among us, Bekka Wright, who bikes from Union Square in Somerville to Mass Art in the Longwood section of Boston each day, said that’s not the case at all.
“It’s not that crazy,” she said. “Biking in winter is just like walking in winter, driving in winter. You have to get pretty dressed up to wait for a bus or to walk and it really isn’t much more complicated than that. So it’s really not that much of a leap from walking to the subway to biking directly to work.”
But a leap, nonetheless.
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