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winter cycling and the return of nerp

December 8, 2010

This is Nerp (the bike above, that is). Nerp (named so by my husband for no other reason than it sounding silly) was my first ‘commuter bike’. In fact, this above shot was my first velocouture picture snapped back in May of 2009. I received Nerp about six years ago from my parents back when I was a grad student pursuing my Masters. I rode Nerp a few times from home to campus back in 2004, but never quite took to the idea. Then, in 2009 during the summer before my move to Germany, I was inspired to give cycling another try. And this time I loved it.

I would credit my husband with much of my change in attitude. As an avid recreational cyclist, he made riding our bikes together on trails fun and exciting. And although I’m the one that inspired him to take cycling past its recreational scope and use it for transportation as well, he’s the one that made me enjoy getting on a bike again to begin with.

After rediscovering Nerp in the summer of 2009, the seed was planted and I became increasingly bike obsessed. I didn’t get to ride a bike as much as I now wish I had during my stay in Europe (file under: things I would do differently now) but I did get to take a few very memorable bike trips through Munich and Prague. Once I returned to the US, I was eager to get back on a bike and give bike commuting another try. That was this past summer when I also began this blog as a way to reflect on my newfound interest and to connect with others sharing my enthusiasm for cycling and bikes.

Once I caught the cycling bug, I pretty quickly discovered what I wanted in a commuter bike and poor Nerp just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I upgraded to an Electra Cruiser initially, which then got replaced by a vintage Raleigh Sports, that has since been supplemented by a Raleigh Grand Prix roadbike and a Peugeout mixte.

But as winter sets in, I’m hesitant to use my beloved vintage bikes on the snow and ice covered roads because of the possible harsh effects of the salt. So back comes Nerp. With wider mountain bike tires, better traction, and a more abuse-resistant body, he’s a perfect winter bike.

Thus my winter cycling strategy has been to pull out my old beater bike and to keep my other bikes in storage until Spring. I have a pair of plastic fenders that I will be adding to Nerp as well as my lights (from my other bikes) and my new bike bell. And this is what winter cycling looks like these days…

Not very glamorous, I fear, but practical and still surprisingly fun. It was 7 F when I left my house yesterday morning (!!) but with the aid of two pairs of tights, fur-lined boots, several layers, and my big fluffy downcoat I made it to campus unscathed by the wind and cold. And while I still aim to run as often as possible, on the days when I don’t make it, it’s nice to know that I still get some fresh air and exercise just on my way to and from work.

Are you still out there cycling?

If you’re new to winter cycling (as I am), check out The LGRAB guide to winter cycling chock full of excuse-busters and tips and advice, as well as Dave’s post on Portlandize on how to keep warm (and stylish!) from a male’s perspective. Happy riding!

21 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 14:03

    Very nice post. I am also new to winter biking and it really isn’t that bad once you know what to wear and get all the tips, etc. I’ve got an Oma with studded tires and I can attest that the tires are fabulous on the icy streets of Chicago. By the way, I thought your winter outfit was fetching. I tend to look like I am going on an arctic expedition when I go out biking in the cold.

    • December 8, 2010 17:29

      Studded winter tires sound awesome! So far we haven’t had any snow stick, but it’s been well below freezing and I’m always on the lookout for ice.

      Also, I don’t feel fetching but thanks:) I feel like a big marshmallow but at least it’s a nice warm and cozy marshmallow feel. The down coat is like wearing a fitted sleeping bag.

  2. December 8, 2010 14:19

    YAY! i’ve been bicycling my heart out lately, too, and i feel SO good riding around in the winter, like champion of the world when everyone else has to take the bus. your coat looks so cozy, too.
    i keep finding that my hands are getting cold, even though i have down mittens. maybe they’ll adjust to the season soon? or maybe i need something even bigger?

  3. December 8, 2010 15:09

    No.. I’m not… :o( It’s too slippery, so these couple of days I took the car… Sorry! ;o)

    If the ice on the road is gone, I will be cycling again. Promise! ;o)

    Have a nice day everybody!

  4. December 8, 2010 16:04

    I cycle all winter here in Minneapolis. Like you, I pull out the old beater mountain bike for most of the winter. It’s partly because I prefer the handling of a mountain bike on snow and ice, but it’s mostly because all the sand, salt, and grit that ends up on the road during the winter wreaks total havoc with any gearing system. To make matters worse, it’s too dang cold during the winter here to properly clean or maintain the bike, so it just gets totally beat up all winter.

    • December 8, 2010 17:32


      yes, that’s what I was thinking too and so I think this will be a good bike to use even though I much prefer how my other bikes handle. I just wouldn’t want to fuss with cleaning them all the time, this way, I can just use the bike and whatever happens happens.

      And after cycling on a roadbike or even on my raleigh sports all summer, the mountain bike tires look HUGE to me. It feels like there is no way these aren’t secure in snow or ice, I feel like I’m riding a tractor!

  5. December 8, 2010 16:41

    I think Nerp is lovely and you made a good decision. :)

  6. December 8, 2010 17:05

    Um, that hat is awesome. I would love one like that for the sub-freezing days. I love my wool hat with ear flaps, but if it’s below 30 and windy, my ears still get pretty cold.

    I also need to get some good well-made wool mittens to wear with glove-liners underneath so I get the warmth of the wool, and then something underneath to cut the wind.

    However, the last week or so (and it’s supposed to continue for at least another week), it’s been about 38 degrees and rainy. No need for extreme cold weather clothing. Though my wool cap and coat are still excellent for rain (natural fibers soak up a ton of water, so you end up still dry underneath, even in dumping rain).

    I’ve also been surprised at how many people have been out riding in the admittedly nasty weather. Even for Portland, it seems like way more people than I remember the last couple of years.

    • December 8, 2010 17:35

      Dave – that’s great to hear of you noticing more people out than years before. I’m also impressed to still be seeing students cycling to campus. Of course far fewer than in the fall, but still! And it’s been in the single digits F here!!

      I actually was thinking that I needed something more for my ears still and I might try adding my earmuffs OVER the hat as a way to keep the hat even more secure and to add some extra warmth just over my ears.

      As for gloves, I thrifted an amazing pair of Thinsulate wool gloves in Munich last winter, they are wool on the outside and fleece lined on the inside and they are great. (Actually, they’re the ones seen in the picture of this post). I would highly recommend something like that.

  7. December 8, 2010 17:54

    Hi S, I just read your post about the mountain bike tires and yes, I agree with you, mtb tire are better for riding In the winter, but not completely full proof. My experience has been that snow tends to build up and stick to the tires and can cause you to slip. Also, I have slipped on ice, but luckily not in traffic; studded tires are the way to go. Don’t want to see you get hurt ;)

  8. December 8, 2010 18:19

    Oh, come on, S! You look gorgeous! Seriously, you have a real Central-European forest-fairytale glamour about you, and to me in New Zealand it’s a thrillingly exotic quality. Look at you rocking that whole Red-Riding-Hood vibe with your hat and your deciduous-trees backdrop! Love it.

  9. Dawn permalink
    December 8, 2010 22:49

    I’ve been cycling every day this winter and it’s certainly been an interesting experience. I have to wear a work uniform so it makes sense for me to pull on some technical gear and crappy clothes for cycling to work. It’s around -5C and snowy here so it’s pretty cold. The best combination that I have found is lycra leggings under my work pants, ski socks, warm gloves work runners, merino wool base layer, wicking tshirt, winter cycling jersey, hi-vis jacket, skullcap and helmet.

    I use the same bike all year round, but I have access to a fully equipped bike workshop to maintain it.

    The thing that scares me about winter cycling is the possibility of a car skidding on ice and hitting me. I’m a bit nervous after being hit by a car last month and I really don’t want that to happen again.

  10. Jennifer permalink
    December 8, 2010 23:06

    I’m working up to cycling in the snow. I’ve invested in some studded tyres – Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pros. They’re supposed to be overkill for commuting but I’m apprehensive about dealing with ice so I decided to get them. They look too chunky for my Pashley so I think I’ll need to put them on my own version of Nerp, my Specialized Rockhopper. I never thought I’d have a need for that bike again but I’m glad I’ve found a use for it. Happy cycling. You look stylish as always: )

  11. December 9, 2010 09:45

    I think Nerp looks rather spiffy!! A sort of solid family retainer rather than a show-girl, but, still well groomed. I really don’t think you can call her a beater bike just yet (even family retainers have their feelings). I hope you and Nerp have some lovely Winter days before the fair-weather cycles come back out :) .

  12. December 9, 2010 22:21

    Eeek! I rode today. I kind of regret it now that I’m cozy in the office and feeling tired but the freezing blast of ice wind in my face will wake me up!

  13. December 9, 2010 22:23

    Oh! And I don’t have an alternate bike for winter. I’m just going to keep pumpin’ on the Schwinn and if she falls apart, we’ll get a new one come spring!

    The CNN clock that I look at read 24 this morning and I was OK. I had on completely normal clothes too. -Except for ugly adidas running gloves.

  14. December 10, 2010 02:35

    You and Nerp are looking good for winter! :)

  15. December 11, 2010 02:10

    Nice story and timely. I was just thinking the other day that 3 years ago I never would have thought I’d need or want 3 bikes (or that I was plotting to acquire 2 more). Is it a sickness?

  16. December 12, 2010 22:03

    Wow, seven degrees! It doesn’t often get that cold here in my part of Oregon. I’m sure I’d have to change out some of my winter biking standbys (coat, hat, etc.) if I was out in that kind of temperature.

    I’m kind of late to the discussion, but I wanted to thank you for this great post. Seeing you gearing up for biking in the serious Midwestern cold is inspiring! Whether Nerp is your favorite ride or not, your images of the two of you together affirm the experiences of women like me, who are (for whatever reason) riding bikes that are pretty well removed from their dream bikes. The point is that it’s still fun, and it still feels good to ride, right?


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