It's a blizzard. Grab your bike.


It's now mostly stopped snowing, at least in my corner of Minneapolis. Depending on where you measure, somewhere between 14 and 20 inches of snow fell here today. And it's still blowing around.

So, naturally, this was a perfect day to travel by bicycle.

After all, our estimated 4,000 winter bike commuters are the reason Bicycle magazine named Minneapolis the #1 bike city in America. Cheers to you, winter cyclists. That said, I hope most of you weren't out in this mess today.

Photo taken by Christopher Baker.


  1. Walking to the grocery turned into a three hour ordeal. So freaking tired…but I have to admit, it’s been a fun weekend so far.

    1. Perfectly safe if you have adequate tires, much more so than driving a car and really common in Europe. Don’t listen to all the haters.

    2. There are traction problems in the winter, but there are traction problems if you drive too, and that doesn’t seem to stop people. At least on a bike in the winter you have to take it slow, so even if you spill it’s not usually bad. With specialized tires it might be better, though I just use regular mountain bike tires, slightly deflated.

      I think it’s safer than walking; where I live the streets are cleared regularly by the city, the sidewalks are ignored.

    3. I used to ride my bike as a daily commuter for a few years. the thing I hated most was riding in the rain because you get all dirty from debry flinging up. when I lived in the city, it never used to snow a lot. I mean, we got snow, but not massive amounts. I remember the first time I went to ride after it had snowed, I didn’t really think about whether it would be hazardous or not. As soon as I got on the road, I slipped on ice (that I couldn’t see under the snow) and fell. of course, I had very thin road bike tires on. it was a very slow, cautious ride after that. I never really tried riding with a more equipped bike after that.

      1. Did you never try putting mudguards on your bike? I find that with mudguards & mudflaps you get wet from the rain, but road dirt doesn’t really hit you.

  2. I wish it would snow here. Southern BC, Canada is always so wet in the winter. We got teased with a day where it snowed some 4 inches, but it melted in a couple days. We haven’t had a good snowy winter here since 1996.

    That said, I wouldn’t want to bike in it. No one here knows how to drive in snow. You’d likely get yourself killed trying to bike on the roads.

  3. I rode my bike to work along the Chicago lakefront year-round for years. Winter was probably the safest time to ride. Falling in snow wasn’t bad, and falling on ice usually left a bruise and minimal scrapes. The real dangers were wet leaves, large sticks in the dark, and summer rollerbladers.

  4. Yah know, I love the fact you’re blogging while holed up in a blizzard. I have never seen so many posts on a Saturday :D

  5. We just came in from shoveling for the 2nd time today in St. Paul. We helped a neighbor get their car moved, but I’m glad we didn’t see nimrods out their bikes. I would have had to push him over. They endanger everyone else so much during the winter.

    Standing by for the wind chills tomorrow.

    1. “We helped a neighbor get their car moved, but I’m glad we didn’t see nimrods out their bikes. I would have had to push him over. They endanger everyone else so much during the winter.”

      Cars are far more of a danger than bikes during the winter.

    2. Not sure how bicyclists endanger anyone. As a year-round commuter and recreational cyclist starting on my fourth Chicago winter cycling season, I can tell you it’s attitudes like that that terrify me, not cars sliding on roads or my bike sliding.

      There are inconsiderate cyclists. But I can tell you they are a lot less dangerous than inconsiderate drivers.

      @joeposts: lol.

      1. Sorry, I’ve seen too many bikes in and out of traffic along Summit Avenue and while not as bad as the joggers who run past pedestrians without warning, they are too reckless with the people on foot and in vehicles.

        1. There’s always one hater whenever there’s a bicycle related post. That motivates me to ride more to defy the nimrods who think I don’t belong on the road. Thanks, man! I’ve made three 240 mile round trip rides this fall.

        2. Disclaimer: I’ve never ridden in snow. Or ice. Or rain. Or anything that even remotely resembles weather. I live in San Diego. I also obviously don’t know anything about Summit Avenue, wherever that may be.

          With that said, I’d like to point out that bikes have more control in their movement than cars do. Cyclists have an unimpeded field of view, and with a good bike you can pretty much turn and stop on a dime. So they might look more reckless than they actually are.

        3. Cyclists don’t kill people. I have seen some bad cyclists in the Twin Cities, but not nearly as many as bad drivers. It is purely drivers trying to display dominance that leads to altercations: cyclists are rarely “in the way” for more than a few seconds. If you can’t wait that long to pass someone safely you don’t belong on the road.

          The road’s for everyone, not just you and people who use it the way you do.

          1. When someone on a bicycle makes a mistake it’s a lot more visible because bicyclists are under a lot more scrutiny, especially by self-appointed auxiliary traffic cops.

      2. Cochituate has a point: when a cyclist gets on the road, cars have to move out of the way (it is, after all, illegal to drive right over them), which might mean having to drive up on a sidewalk or into the path of oncoming traffic. Cyclists don’t know this, but most cars aren’t equipped with brakes. Horn, lights, gas pedal, sure… but there’s just no way to slow down when you’re driving. Also: it is REALLY hard to text AND steer AND have to watch out for obstacles, especially when those obstacles are cyclists since they’re moving.
        Resolved: cyclists are nimrods, and driving a car is damn hard enough without having to avoid them!

  6. I live in Minneapolis too, and we had some crazy biking down the street this afternoon.

    I think we pushed out about six cars while walking to the grocery store too.

  7. Gasp! I never thought Portland’s supremacy of bike would be crushed. Then again, they panic at a dusting snow, soooo there I have it.

  8. I’ve ridden in winter quite a bit and it’s got lots of good points and some bad. For one thing, I really abhor riding on the roads for a number of reasons:
    – snow piles tend to jut out and remove most if not all of the buffer zone on the sides of the road, making you battle with the cars.
    – Black ice or the worst thing, black ice that has been rained on. Once slid for no less than 50 yards on my back.
    – Get a flat and you could be in for a severe and potentially dangerous chill. You’re not moving and likely a bit sweaty. My tip for this situation bank ATMs. They’re inside, usually pretty roomy, and thus perfect to fix things and move along.

    That said, you do get some incredible balancing skills from riding in often uneven snow. Good way to burn off calories, too.

  9. Tires with studs for the ice and you are good to go on the clear roads. Keep the pressure low to get as many studs in contact as possible.

    In deeper fresh snow narrower tires are actually better. It gets really hard to keep a line when the wheels start floating, the wheels just want to pull off to the side.

  10. I tried riding through snow once. Never again. The snow got into my breaks, and I couldn’t stop. I ended up going really, really slow because I just couldn’t trust them.

    So, what’s the secret for iced up breaks?

  11. Is that West River Road? I’d think with the number of hills, that would be the last road you’d wanna venture into in Minneapolis!

    I’m in the Lowry Hill/East Isles neighborhood, and I’ve been hearing car wheels spinning along my road (which is a bit of an incline) all day today.

  12. Take a look at cyclocross racing to see how much fun riding/racing a bike in the snow can be. It’s an off-season cycling sport that started in Europe and has become very popular here. And the national championships have been going on this week up in Bend, OR.

  13. Obviously, it’s hard to say for sure, but my observations throughout the day on Bloomington Ave — one of the more important thoroughfares for hardcore bicyclists in south Minneapolis — leads me to believe that there are probably not too many bikers on the road right now. There’s just too much snow to slog through. Once the plows can get through (they’ve been halted due to white-out conditions), I expect many of the people I know in the bike community will be back on the prowl.

    Meanwhile, there’s a different kind of white out going on in the media:

  14. We just came in from shoveling for the 2nd time today in St. Paul. We helped a neighbor get their car moved, but I’m glad we didn’t see nimrods out their bikes. I would have had to push him over. They endanger everyone else so much during the winter.

    Standing by for the wind chills tomorrow.

  15. My favourite winter cycling moment – riding past two guys with snow shovels digging a snowplow out of a big drift. I lifted my bike on my shoulder, carried it over the drift, and rode on.

    @Cochituate – I’m glad you don’t live here in Canada, because if you shoved over a cyclist here, my taxes might end up paying for your hospital bills after you got the beating you deserved.

  16. We just came in from shoveling for the 2nd time today in St. Paul. We helped a neighbor get their bike winterized, but I’m glad we didn’t see nimrods out their cars. I would have had to smash his windshield with my bike chain. They endanger everyone else so much during the winter.

    Standing by for the wind chills tomorrow.

  17. Cochituate, where would that “reckless weaving” be? I’ve never seen it. Summit is my (summer) bike route, and there’s a wide bike line stripe both directions.

  18. Shoveled once but the falling and blowing snow filled in the paths already. Waiting for tomorrow to really shovel it out. In the subzero temps. Lovely Minneapolis weather.

  19. Every time someone asks me how I could live in area with hurricanes, I point at articles like this and ask them how they can live with snow and winter.

  20. How can you bike through snow? I tried it in a few inches and it was like pedaling through wet cement. Then if you hit any ice you will go flying instantly.

  21. Winter rides are great, especially late night ones. Windproof clothes keep you warm, silent rides as the snow catches and muffles all sound, good times….

  22. Big deal. In NYC, you can still get Chinese food delivered on bikes with 16″ inches of snow on the ground, and they’ll still stop to get you smokes too. Also, the delivery guys will be wearing just their t-shirts and aprons.

  23. Nokian Studded Tires. I like their Extreme 235’s, which, on ice, are like riding a mountain goat. Unfortunately, they’re like velcro on bare pavement, but hey — free muscles!

    I prefer disc brakes on my winter bike as rim brakes can fail completely when wet and icy, which is how they get in fresh snow.

    Dress in layers for your riding power level, not for your standing around doing nothing power level.

    Beyond that, I will forebear a long treatise on my hard-won decade+ lessons of winter/snow/ice/-20F/24-7 northern Fox Valley Illinois (chi.burbs) riding experience.

    It is unbelievably fun and very good for the mind and body.

  24. @Anon #45:

    It’s not so much the snow here in Mpls, it’s the wind. Today we’ve had lots of wind and gusts which (IMO) would make it hard to ride a bike. Remember too, tomorrow when our high temp is 3 that there will be a few oddballs out in shirtsleeves too. It’s not smart when it gets this stinking cold here.

    BTW is it just me or do all of us Mpls residents post more on Maggie’s posts? ;)

  25. Disk brakes and studded tires and it is just a matter of cutting your own trail or finding some ruts to ride in. Forget trying to ride without studs, if you are not rich you can even DIY studs with wide head tacks. Forget using any kind of friction dynamo but a hub dynamo will be fine.

  26. Not on snow, though. Which was the reason I had to switch to the asphalt last Thursday, as some people apparently can’t be bothered to shovel snow on the combined side walk/bikle lane they live next too.

    actually, most car drivers were okay with that, though they obviously couldn’t alway pass me far enough to avoid spray me a little with sludge, but that’s okay.

    But a truck driver, probably behind schedule and under stress, saw it fit to pass me with less that two feet/half a meter, using the horns with abandon, and then a young mother started her car just when I was about the overtake a parking car. that was in an unplowed secondary street and braking took me down.(Thanks, dear unknown lady who brought your kid to the kindergarten, it’s not that you couldn’t have waited the 5 seconds, I total understand that. )

    That’s when I decided to walk to work.

    By the way in our region the law requires that people clear the side walk from snow and makes I quite clear that bike lanes are only mandatory when they are actually usuable.

  27. I wish we could get some of that snow up here. Northern Minnesota, an hour south of Canada, and we just get the cold weather, none of the snow.

  28. I haven’t yet tried this – I would want to make more upgrades (snow tires, disc brakes) than I can afford before I would feel safe, but I fully condone it. I *have* gone out in -10 degree frosty weather, but not snow.

    One thing I have wondered about, though, is what happens if things go wrong — ie your bike breaks down completely, or you fall and are injured? The amount of clothing you wear is for your full-power level of work, but when you stop dead (and maybe go into minor shock), I’d imagine hypothermia could set in pretty quickly…

    1. silly me, i clicked on report instead of reply. I like Kieran’s posting. apologizings.

      Kieran, I carry a 911-only cell phone, a whistle, and a very bright LED flashlight, just in case. My experience is that i don’t cool down to uncomfortableness for about 15~20 minutes after stopping, probably faster if i was laying in the snow…

  29. I’ve been bicycle commuting in Denver since late fall 2001. My snow bike has evolved into an old steel Bontrager race light, 29″ wheels, nokian studded tires, fixed gear, rigid front end with a disc brake. Back brakes are unneeded with a fixed, the front disc won’t ice up, and the lack of derailleurs keeps everything turning smoothly even in slimy wet slog. The fixed also lets you slide the rear around curves with perfect control, something I can’t do nearly as well with a back brake.

    A couple times the snow was simply too deep to ride, but that’s been pretty rare. I’ve ejected off the bike, bashing into some serious snow banks on the bike path – get up quick and brush off before your body heat melts the snow and you’re generally ok. On the deepest snow days I’ve taken cross country skis to work, but that’s only been 4 or so times in 9+ years.

    Shorts above 5 degrees for the short commute, but long pants for the long commute – it just gets too cold after dark in snow to risk the shorts for a 45 min ride.

    Wahooo! That MN snow looks fun.

    The Fiat RN
    Denver, CO

  30. Growing up in northern Sweden, where there’s snow on the ground half of the year, I’ve extensive experience of riding bikes on snow. Obviously it isn’t as safe as riding on asphalt, but if you’re used to it, it isn’t that bad. New fluffy snow is only a problem if it’s so thick that you can hardly get through it. Ice is horror in slopes or at turns though, especially if covered with new snow. If half-thawed snow freezes you can get jagged ice that is nearly impossible to ride a bike on. Generally, though, you are much more likely to fall when walking than when riding a bike in snow, especially if you change to winter tires, with spikes.

  31. Whenever it snows heavily, I leave the van at home and take the bike. Chunky tyres, careful route choice, no rush: lovely.

  32. Is there an on-line guide to winter biking somewhere? I’ve given up
    on non-plowed days, as snow-on-black ice, glassed tires, and getting stuck in ruts made rides miserable and dangerous.

  33. Two words: Surly Pugsley

    I own one and it’s been a blast riding around town in the aftermath of our blizzard. I made it to the bar for lunch and can enjoy my bloody whilst watching the cars struggle as they drive by.

    Cochituate, while your attitude doesn’t necessarily surprise me, I find it amusing that it’s almost always people from the suburbs who share it.

  34. The picture reminds me of a Calvin & Hobbes strip which involved Calvin’s dad coming in out of a bike ride in a snow storm. I think there was also a joke about oatmeal being hedonistic?

  35. We got about 17″ in our corner of St. Paul. Dug out at midnight last night to avoid the tag/tow, only to find out after the fact that the city banned towing until tonight.

    At least we got the car moved. Though to be honest, snow shoes would seem most appropriate for today. :)

  36. The best thing about riding in the snow is being able to pick up the bike and move it if you get stuck. I live on a street that dead ends at the bottom of a hill and gets plowed late- in other words a trap for cars that go in.

    Riding on fresh the fresh, clean, snow is great. It sucks when it gets driven on a bit and turns into gritty bong water slush, though. Even with fenders it’s hard not to get sprayed by the dirty mist that cars and trucks throw from their tires on wet pavement.

  37. The biggest concern I have about the bicyclist and the snow is that the city does a TERRIBLE job of plowing to the curb in the winter. Which means the bike lanes become either parking lanes or driving lanes. Minneapolis needs to be more concerned about plowing from curb to curb then they are.

    But I’ve seen at least 8 bikes riding down my street today. No problems. The snow makes them even easier than normal to see I think. Plus since there are no sidewalks cleared, most of the pedestrians are walking on the streets, so motorists are really on the look out. Seems like a great day to be out biking. Except I’m a cold weather wuss.

  38. under the topic of SAFETY, I would add that — in addition to the cellphone, flashlight, and whistle mentioned above — I would suggest pocketing a couple of those carbon-based air-activated heating packets that you can buy at any reasonable outdoor store. They saved my wife’s toes in a situation which can best be described as “beautiful ski-in; camp out; holy sht it’s 30 below in the morning?!?!”

    add pepper spray if you gotta travel thru’ any of the worst parts of town? Definitely add a compass if you’re visiting unfamiliar places where the streets go every which way — e.g. Europe, at least for me. I carry a compass with me everywhere, and I have a pretty well-developed sense of direction. But when you come outta a tube stop to slate-gray skies with no clue whatsoever, a compass can be damned handy — with bike, snow, rain, or none of the above. Also great when you rent a bike in Europe and don’t want to memorize all the rapidly changing street names, but rather want to work from the gestalt that you need to be “about 5 miles north of here.”

    slightly off-topic, perhaps, but I thought it worth a mention if the first paragraph only saves 1/2 of somebody’s finger. and the compass tip is the ONLY thing I’ve EVER read in a travel guidebook that’s worth repeating — ancient tech to be sure, but way cheaper that buying a tripleband phone to pick up EU GPS!!!

  39. “One thing I have wondered about, though, is what happens if things go wrong — ie your bike breaks down completely, or you fall and are injured? The amount of clothing you wear is for your full-power level of work, but when you stop dead (and maybe go into minor shock), I’d imagine hypothermia could set in pretty quickly…”

    You worry too much. It’s just falling over. People have been doing it ever since we got up on two legs on the savannah.

    Bike breaks down: Walk it. Carry it. Lock it up and walk yourself. Get it on a cab or tram or train.

    Most falls: Get up again, cursing. Or laughing, if you fell in deep snow.

    Falls of DEATH: Provide cosy innard shelter for orphan jedi.

    No need to freeze to death in civilisation. That’s kinda why it’s called civilisation. Keep moving til the next coffee shop, then get props for being such a rugged individualist.

  40. I carry the chemical hand warmers in case something happens so I’m stuck and stopped. I haven’t used ’em yet. When it’s below 10, I will do 6 minutes on my indoor bike so’s I dont’ have to have cold hands ’til I warm up. (I’m too cheap to get thick gloves.)
    That said, I’m taking the bus tomorrow. I’ve had the bike blown from under me last February (with studs… tho’ prob’ly if I’d thought to back off the pressure and lean on the front it might not have happened…) same day my brother fell asleep in his cab parked in front of his house after a long day, and was buried in the blizzard and died of CO poisoning. (East Coast – they don’t know from blizz) So… the cars are more dangerous even if they’re not moving.

  41. The worst experience I had riding in snow was when my freewheel got wet and then froze so the pawls wouldn’t engage when I was riding in rural Wisconsin during a surprise spring blizzard. I tried soaking some toilet paper with WD40 and igniting it to thaw the freewheel but it was too windy. Finally I was able to convince someone to lend me a hair dryer to thaw it out only after I pointed out that I could use the outdoor outlet on her front porch and wouldn’t have to come inside. Otherwise it would have been a long walk.

    Newer Shimano cassette hubs always freeze up like that in below zero weather because they are manufactured with grease that gets too thick and sticky when it’s cold. I got in the habit of carrying a propane torch with me just in case.

  42. As a Portland resident who formerly lived in Sapporo and bike commutes/bike commuted in both cities, I can assure you that snow is much preferable to 33 degrees and raining. When it’s snowing, you stay dry.

  43. 4000 commuters in minnesota? in montreal, it’s 50.000 – according to velo quebec ;-)

    did you know that considering the weight/surface ratio, bicycles have actually more traction than vehicles? so when the road is cleared enough to permit cars, it’s fine for bikes …

  44. Yep, snow and ice are fine. Continuous rain less fun. Which is why I prefer winters in Ontario to where I used to live on the North Sea coast of England.

    Regardless, I cycle all year round. In winter here, I just switch to my ‘Beast’ – a home-built single-speed MTB with studded tyres and minimal complicated parts.

  45. my gear for central ontario winter riding: carbide-studded tires on a beater bike. good front and rear lights (they days are short and you definitely want to be seen). windproof and waterproof wear — my standby outfit is old, yellow rain slicker pants and a gore-tex jacket. very waterproof footware — my hiking boots do the job. good gloves (i use lobster style mitt/gloves for warmth and the ability to hit the brakes more easily). warm headgear — i wear turtle fur under my helmet. a helmet — even if you don’t wear one in fair weather, the slip factor makes it a must in snow/ice.

    if you’re out having a blast for awhile, a thermos of fun warm liquid.

    i’ve also packed the chemical hand warmers on really cold days. why not go for extra warmth?

  46. I ride year-round in Chicago – snow, rain, below-zero temps, 90+ heat. For riding in the rain & snow, deep-grooved balloon tires are terrific. There’s really only two things you need: good balance, and steady nerves. When you start getting stuck in snow, your immediate reaction is to stand up; but if you do that, you’ve already lost it. You have to keep your butt planted on the saddle as you need the weight on the rear wheel to get through it. Just keep pedaling. And snowy side streets are still better than plowed main streets, even those with bike lanes.
    Kudos to all the year-round riders out there, tip one back for yourselves.

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