“I didn’t bike yesterday,” says DeWight Plotner, almost apologetically.
It’s the day after a nasty snowfall in mid-January, but Plotner, owner of Wheels in Motion on Washtenaw, feels he needs to explain why he didn’t pedal to work as usual—from Pinckney.
Plotner is a member of the city’s small but growing community of year-round bikers. They’re a savvy, experienced lot who prepare carefully for the challenges of riding on icy roads in poor visibility. Even so, at some point most are willing to draw the line and switch to four-wheeled commuting.
Downtown resident and physician Karen Park says she parks her bike when the “temperature is in the low twenties.” Nancy Shore, who promotes alternative commuting through the GetDowntown program, describes herself as a “common sense winter biker” who leaves her bicycle at home “if it seems to be a little bit perilous.”
But Jimmy Raggett of Two Wheel Tango rides five miles to work every day, conditions be damned. His five-year-old son bikes to school all winter, too—though his ride is “only a block,” Raggett emphasizes. Washtenaw Community College instructor Dale Petty rarely skips his commute from Easy Street on the southeast side, enjoying the beauty of snow-covered Gallup Park. “When I drive, I’m cold,” says Petty. “When I bike, I’m warm.”
Despite or because of the challenges, winter biking appears to be gaining fans. A Two Wheel Tango employee reports that the number of studded tires sold there has doubled in the last two years. Local efforts to encourage year-round commuting include a “winter commuter challenge” run by Wheels in Motion and programs sponsored by the newly formed Common Cycle (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Even with the best precautions, most winter riders seem to have had at least one close call. Dale Petty’s moment came when a car going too fast for icy conditions on Geddes Road slid into him and “bent the heck out of my back wheel.” Still, Petty says he’d rather bike than drive through the white stuff.
“I used to commute [by car] back and forth to Royal Oak in wintertime,” Petty emails. “That was really terrifying.”