Longing for good biking all year round? It's here

Specialized equipment takes sport through four seasons

A cyclist makes his way through along a winter trail.

A cyclist makes his way through along a winter trail.

Dec. 21, 2012

Biking in the summer is fun and easy. Fall and spring, sure. But for some people, that's not enough - they want four full seasons.

Paul Makela is one of those people. He works in sales at Wheel & Sprocket's North Shore store, 6940 N. Santa Monica Blvd., so you might expect him to be enthusiastic about riding. But that may be an understatement. For him, it's a lifestyle.

Makela lives in Grafton, and it's a 32-mile roundtrip ride for him to the store in Fox Point.

"I rode in today from Grafton, which I do pretty often, 12 months out of the year," he said. "I'll put in a 100 miles a week during the winter and 200 a week during the summer."

Makela takes the Ozaukee Interurban Trail from Grafton all the way down to Brown Deer Park. "They plow it, so, you know, 80 percent of my ride is plowed, and I don't even have to deal with cars," he said. He has a road bike with enough clearance in the fork for wider, hybrid tires with metal studs, front and back. He wears a hooded top, like a balaclava, that covers his whole head and face, under a regular bike helmet.

Or, he said, "If it's in the 20s or less then I'll use a ski helmet and ski goggles, and it's a lot warmer that way."

He also has winter biking shoes, which might run $200 or more.

"We'll sell a handful of winter shoes per year" at the store, he said, but there are cheaper options, such as booties that resist water that are worn over regular biking shoes.

Heat packs or foot warmers are other options that are sold at most sporting goods stores and even some department stores.

Finally, good wool socks are important, Makela said. Bike stores sell thin wool socks made especially for biking that fit under most shoes.

Makela, who has been in the bicycle business for 25 years, said there aren't many conditions he won't ride in.

"I get kind of bogged down after about 2 or 3 inches (of snow), then it's too much for me," but the plowed trail is rarely that covered, and when he doesn't ride, "it's usually my wife that stops me from going."

Makela often brings clothes to change into, and keeps regular shoes at the store. As a bike store employee, his work attire can be fairly low key, "but I know some people who do have to wear a suit, or special stuff, and some people will just drive once a week … or have their wife or somebody drop off some clothing for them," he said.

The biking judge

Chris Foley may be an example. A Circuit Court judge, he lives in Wauwatosa and bikes seven miles to his downtown courtroom.

"I rode every day last year except for about four or five days. I don't have studded tires and all that stuff, so when it snows, if the streets stay snow-covered, I don't ride," he said.

He tries to stay on streets that have bike lanes, and makes short use of sidewalks in tight traffic. Like Makela, he wears a helmet, along with insulated gym pants, and he "layers up" on top, with a windbreaker covering everything.

"I'm much more concerned, not with warmth, I'm more concerned with darkness when I ride in the winter," he said. He uses lights front and back.

He washes off and changes in his chambers, he said, and, since he wears a robe most of the day, he's not required to dress up.

One day, Foley said, he arrived just in time for a 9 a.m. hearing "and the people were already (there) and I just said, take me as I am. I had my biking gear on and … they kind of got a chuckle out of it, so that was all right."

Foley, 59, started biking to work five or six years ago, partly because "I've gotten to an age where my basketball game just isn't there any more," and he wanted another method of exercise. He's one of a number of judges who ride to work, some from even greater distances.

Environmental concerns also are part of Foley's motivation. It also frees him from the problem of parking a car downtown, and even some traffic problems are erased.

"I literally am gleeful at night when I'm taking off on my bike and I'm riding along and cars are backed up for three blocks at stop signs," he said.

Most of all, though, for him, biking home from work is a cleanser.

"I find it's really a great release for me, I just feel so much better when I ride, and it just gets everything from the day out. … I think that's the primary motivation," he said.

Other options

The latest thing in winter biking are fat-tire bikes, which are like mountain bikes with tires four inches across.

"They kind of float over the snow a little bit better" than bikes with normal tires, said Jesse Kuester, manager of the North Shore Wheel & Sprocket.

The bikes are a little slower than regular bikes, but allow a rider to get out there in conditions that would stop most bikes, including sand, Kuester said.

The bikes are expensive - $1,700 or more, he said - but they are selling to dedicated riders as a second or third bike.

But a fat-tire bike is still riding outside, and outside riding in the winter isn't for everybody.

Getting your fix, indoors

Fortunately there are ways to ride inside.

Crank Daddy's, at 2170 N. Prospect Ave., is one of a number of stores that offer winter training inside. Its Computrainer system uses a video screen showing a route that the rider is traversing that requires full use of gearing - everything about an outside ride but the wind and the weather. Other bike sellers offer similar training programs, either with a video or with a coach, including Wheel & Sprocket stores and Emery's Bicycle & Super Fitness stores, at 9929 W. Lisbon Ave. in Milwaukee and N88 W15306 Main St. in Menomonee Falls.

Emery's offers coached sessions, said Ben Emery, who manages the Menomonee Falls store. His brother, Brent, who manages the Milwaukee store, won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles in men's team pursuit. He leads the Milwaukee store's training sessions, Ben Emery said.

For indoor training, in most cases, you bring your bike for the session, or store it at the store. Training stands are provided at some stores, and in other cases must be owned by the rider. And charges apply for the in-store trainings.


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