We aren’t so tough

Winter Bike to Work Day in Boulder

We’ve had some honest-to-god winter weather in Boulder this past week, with overnight temperatures as low as -25°C (-13°F), and light snowfall on and off for several days.  Here, if you keep riding your bike around town when the weather is like this, people think you’re tough, hard core, committed… or crazy:

@BoulderParking: Boulder bikers are tough & committed. Despite the sub zero temps this week… bike commuters were out every day!

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an older guy at a lighthouse (now a museum) on the coast of Oregon during a bike tour.  The museum displays were all about what life was like as a lighthouse keeper, living in isolation with their family, independent from the rest of the world for the most part, exposed to harsh weather on a spectacularly rugged, wild stretch of coastline.  The old guy seemed to think that today people would be totally incapable of living that way.  Of even learning to live that way.  Which just strikes me as bizarre.  People are people.  We’re adaptable.  We can normalize just about anything.  There’s a great quote from Aldous Huxley:

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

In places where bicycling is taken for granted, people ride all winter, and don’t think much of it.  This winter has been especially cold and snowy in northern Europe, but browse through Mikael’s collection of winter cycling pictures in Copenhagen, and you’ll still see hundreds of men and women of all ages bundled up, with kids and groceries, wearing normal clothing, riding through the snowy city all winter long:

Yellow Wall Winter 003 - Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen

Aerial Winter Bicycle 02 - Winter Cycling in Copenhagen

I like Dottie’s take on winter riding, up in Chicago (not exactly known for it’s clement winters):

The main thing that makes riding in this kind of weather seem daunting, to me anyway, is cars.  Bike lanes are usually filled with ploughed snow, and so you usually just have to take the lane, riding in one of the car tire tracks on busy roads.  Wiping out on slick ice isn’t exactly fun, but especially if you’re all bundled up, it’s unlikely to do you too much harm.  That changes when you’re forced to share space with multi-ton steel machines.

If we want bikes to be taken seriously as transportation we need more people to feel comfortable riding in rain or snow or shine, all year long.  For that to happen, it has to become normal — and it can become normal.  It is normal in many places.  Sometimes it feels good to be hard core, but playing that feeling up only acts to reinforce it as a niche behavior, to exclude people who don’t think of themselves as cyclists, even if they might want to ride a bike.

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Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

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