Imagine yourself on the best bike ride of your life. You’re breezing around a city or country road, wind in your face, feeling strong and empowered, fighting climate change one pedal at a time.
This particular vision might not take place in January in the Pacific Northwest. Rain, cold, and even snow can change the biking experience significantly. However, those in Whatcom County who ride year-round know that there is still beauty, meaning, and social impact to be found even on the dreariest of days.
Just ask Neah Ingram-Monteiro, a graduate student and parent, who started bike commuting 10 years ago. “It’s one of the ways you can keep your spirit lifted, getting on your bike in the cold, the dark, and the wet.” she says. “You can breathe the air and just get out there.”
Ingram-Monteiro understands, though, that there are many reasons people choose not to—or can’t—bike. “Our society, and our town, is set up for cars,” she says.
But when she has the choice and ability to bike, she appreciates the way it connect hers to the community where she lives. “I can see other people and we can interact. I feel more in touch with the physical and social environment around me than when I’m in a car.”
Ingram-Monteiro has passed her love of biking on to her daughter. “It’s my toddler’s favorite mode of transportation,” she says. “As soon as she was old enough for the bike seat, around 11 months, we started getting back on there. That was last winter. It was an adventure in keeping her warm going through the cold air.”
She recalls one sweet and memorable day last February, right before the pandemic, when the two were on their way from Birchwood to Fairhaven, to visit family. The sun was just rising, and her daughter was so cozy and bundled that she fell right asleep, even though she’d just woken up to start her day.
Biking brings us into conversation with our community in a way few other activities can. “Moving under our own power is a way to know our bodies, our landscape, and our place more intimately,” says Sophie Williams, owner and baker at Raven Breads. “Being out in all seasons is part of that knowing. We can’t love our land only in sunshine and warm weather.”
For Williams, biking is more than a way to get from Point A to Point B, although it’s her primary mode of travel, as well. “Biking is transportation, exercise, a time for reflection and daydreams, and a political statement,” she says.
Williams also echoes Ingram-Monteiro, explaining that biking and walking aren’t for everybody and that “a robust public transit system is the other half of equitable urban transit.”
Equitable urban transit is also bolstered by community support. “If people shovelled and salted their sidewalks,” Williams says, “winter biking and walking during the iciest weeks of winter would be a lot safer and more accessible.”
There are, of course, other ways to make winter biking more safe, accessible, and downright enjoyable. Staci May started Earl’s Bike Shop in Bellingham 10 years ago, and she knows the ins-and-outs of biking year round.
“For winter—and I think this is true for any sport—it’s all about the gear,” she says. “You can do things relatively inexpensively. A good pair of gloves is helpful, as well as a headband or hat that fits under your helmet. The COVID masks kind of keep your face a little warmer, too. And, of course, rain gear is a must.”
Many of her staff are year-round bikers themselves. They recommend fenders to protect yourself from mud and water that flies up during the wetter months, as well as lights. Lights are crucial to make sure you can see and be seen, especially during these shorter, darker days.
For those who can outfit their bikes and themselves safely, winter biking is full of delights. And the health benefits of biking are numerous; it’s a low-impact aerobic exercise, great for cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and flexibility, and stress relief. Not to mention, it’s also a way to minimize our carbon footprint on the planet.
May describes just a couple of the unexpected gifts of biking, “I don’t have to worry about getting a parking spot at Trader Joe’s! And, of course, it’s good for the environment and mental and physical health too.”
Year-round biking is a way to stay connected to our health, our communities, and our environment—rain or shine.