Jake Walsh — Rochester, NY
As told to James Lynch
Last year I switched from driving a sedan to driving a van. It was kind of a utility vehicle for touring with my band, and it made me reevaluate how much I wanted to drive. I didn’t want to drive my big Honda Odyssey everywhere. It eats up gas and it feels so dumb to be one person in a van driving down the road.
In the warmer months I always cycled for pleasure and fun, but I switched over this year to commuting by bike every day, all year long. My van mostly sits in the driveway and I bike to work. It’s about two miles and it’s right along the Genesee river which cuts through Rochester. It’s generally a very scenic ride. I see the Rochester skyline which I love, especially in the morning when it’s sunny. I rip down the river and it pretty much takes me right to where I work.
This is my first winter intentionally biking every day. The barrier to entry is smaller than you think. I thought I was going to need to get a mountain bike; I’d need to winterize everything; I’d need to get these big fat tires. But it’s all up to your level of comfort and how you think you will do in the snow. Things can go wrong. Our coldest day so far this year was 19 degrees. It was windy, raining and just so cold. But for me, I just needed to get some thermal stuff from Costco, find a waterproof outer layer, get new winter tires and commit to doing it.
February is especially brutal in Rochester. It’s going to be nuts. I have been improvising with my methods to deal with the snow and cold. The important thing is just making sure I’m covered up and have a solid base layer. I wear Blundstones and good socks when it’s wet out. They do the trick. The big challenge is the wind here and protecting your face. Especially along the river, the wind is very intense. I have ski goggles in storage that I need to go grab.
You find where your holes are pretty quick when it is raining or really cold. There will be one day where my hands really hurt and I’ll be like, “Ok, I need to fix that problem.” My commute is not too long so even if there is weakness it’s not like I’m commuting 20 miles and it’s going to be a bad situation. I’ll be uncomfortable for 10 minutes and then it’s fine. And with the right gear I even end up really sweaty when I get to work.
I have one bike, a road bike. The biggest thing I’ve done has been to switch out my tires with something grippier. I carry a rag with me and wipe down the chain, the seat, and the handlebars when it is wet. I kind of just try to give it a little rub down. I don’t do as good of a job as I should, but at the very least I get the moisture off of it.
You’ll find a bunch of other people out there riding in sludge and in the cold. I always get the point like, “Hey, you too huh?” Most of my riding is limited to getting too and form work. That Is honestly enough for me for now. I don’t love exercising unless it is on a bike so it’s a nice way to stay active and get some endorphin hits early in the morning. It also just wakes you up. People think it must be treacherous riding in the snow, but if anything it makes you more conscious of where you throw your weight around. It’s very enjoyable. And there are a bunch of us out there. I love it.
As far as tips for new riders, a big one is just getting over the initial discomfort, the fear of getting yelled at, of going into the lane if there isn’t a bike lane. There are stretches of my commute where there is no bike lane. You’re harder to hit if you are very visible. It’s maybe counterintuitive but if you can be in the road, in a lot of cases, it is safer.
In these colder places it’s not as much of a slog as you might think it would be with precipitation and wind, freezing rain. The comfort of driving into work during the cold months was there for sure, but biking is a really enjoyable part of my day. It sets a nice tone to everything I am going to do for the rest of the day.
It’s fun. It becomes a part of your routine quicker and more seamlessly than you would think. What I am saying is, if you are interested in it or curious about it, the barrier to entry is smaller than you think.