Frosty cyclists conquer coldA few strong-willed bicycle commuters brave the icy blasts of winterSaturday, January 24, 2009 3:07 AMTHE COLUMBUS DISPATCHSteve Shaffer knows most people peg him as a wacko when he rides his bike to work in below-zero weather.
Heavily insulated Steve Shaffer takes the cold trek home on his bicycle after curling-club practice. He is not alone in his determination to commute by bike even on the coldest days. (But there aren't many like him.)ERIC ALBRECHT | DISPATCH
Click here for tips on how to stay comfortable during cold-weather biking.
But the Battelle senior research scientist is far from alone in his choice to commute by bike year-round, no matter the weather or temperature.
Take Jan. 16, the day the mercury sank to 10 below in central Ohio. Some folks wouldn't even crack their front door to grab the newspaper.
Shaffer just added a few more layers of clothing to his 51-year-old body, pulled on his face mask and goggles, and dropped chemical hand warmers into his mittens before heading the 4 miles from his Upper Arlington home to Battelle.
The same day, Scott Atwood, 52, of the North Side, rode 9 miles to his job after scanning blogs from Alaskan bicyclists about how to stay warm. His goggles fogged and his feet got cold, but he rode home and then repeated the ride -- with chemical hand warmers in his boots -- the next day, when it was minus 11 degrees.
"I like to say I can't believe people are crazy enough to drive a car in this weather," said Stephen Hardwick, who bikes weekdays between his Clintonville home and his job in the Office of the Ohio Public Defender Downtown.
Hardwick, 41, rides 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 miles each way, depending on the route he chooses. He bikes so he doesn't have to exercise at a gym and because rush-hour traffic raises his blood pressure.
"I don't want to die of a heart attack at age 50," he said. "Last year, we had a little girl, and I'd like to be around when she graduates from college."
Shaffer bikes for the health benefits and to reduce gasoline consumption, save money and clear his head. He bikes even when he has community activities after work; he just rides his bike home afterward.
Lisa Houser, 24, bicycles all around Columbus to substitute teaching jobs.
"It's a good way to start the day in general and it keeps my blood flowing," said Houser, who sold her car before winter began and has taken the bus only once since then. She started riding five years ago while living in Florida; this is her second winter in Ohio.
"I just kind of threw myself into it," said Houser, who lives in the south end of Clintonville. "It saves my conscience from worrying about environmental destruction."
As of yesterday, Houser and other die-hard bicyclists had peddled through 13 days of below-average January temperatures, including four when the mercury plunged to zero or lower.
Like all winter cyclists, Hardwick has slid on ice or snow more than once, but he's never suffered serious consequences. He sometimes uses studded tires to give them more bite and prefers city streets to the bike path along the Olentangy River because streets are usually cleaner.
He hasn't had frostbite. He wears lots of layers on his legs, chest, hands and feet. They include pants and a jacket that are wind-resistant, topped with a lime-green vest so he's highly visible in traffic.
"I'm much better protected than people standing outside smoking cigarettes," Hardwick said.
Sub-zero temperatures aren't expected back in central Ohio anytime soon, but highs will be stuck in the mid-20s and lows in the teens until next Wednesday, said meteorologist Mike Pigott with AccuWeather in State College, Pa.
January will end up about 4 degrees below the month's 28-degree average, Pigott said. He predicts February temperatures will hit the average of 32 degrees and March could be slightly above its 42-degree average.
The Columbus Dispatch gave us a peek at what a few hardy souls are doing here in Columbus to keep on the roads during the winter! And, even better, they give us a few tips for cold-weather cycling... thanks, Kathy Lynn Gray!