OUT: You can ride year-round in Grand Junction.
What’s that dusty contraption hanging in your garage?
Oh yeah, it’s your bike.
“Most people hang up their bikes once the weather starts cooling off and forget about them until spring,” said Davis Finley at the Board and Buckle Co. on North Avenue. “That’s too bad, because you really can ride year-round in Grand Junction.”
Finley isn’t simply trying to drum up a little shoulder-season business for his bicycle shop. One big reason people move to and stay in Grand Junction is the largely benign winter weather, and if there is any place that’s cold-weather bike-friendly (weather-wise, anyway) it’s this mini-metropolis.
For most riders, though, that first golden leaf floating to the ground is like the checkered flag at Daytona. Except for the rare dust-off on balmy days in late October or early November, that initial hard frost kills not only the tomatoes but most bike riders’ desire to pedal.
Not everyone, of course. Riders in Crested Butte, Steamboat, Telluride and other winter wonderlands revel in winter travel, since it’s often easier and faster to hop on your bike than it is to first find and then dig out your car.
But it’s not just the summer-deprived who are riding year-round. Maybe it was the higher gas prices, a desire to stay active or simply a personal rebellion against the tyranny of the automobile, but it seems there are more and more people commuting on their bikes.
You see them early on these still-dark mornings and early-dark evenings, reflective-striped wraiths zipping along roadways and bike lanes following a narrow ribbon of light and trailing the flashing red light that both warns and instructs.
One of these riders is Bryan Miick, co-owner of The Bike Shop at 10th and North. Miick says he rides about 8,000 miles a year, including daily making the 16-mile round-trip between work and home.
“I really like riding in the winter,” said the well-mustached Miick. “It’s rare that it’s sloppy or wet, and when it’s like that I just change bikes” to one with fenders.
It’s the thought of being cold that deters most winter riders and Finley and Miick have ready answers to that.
“You can buy specialized cold-weather bike riding clothes but most people already have what they need in their ski closets,” Finley said. “Ski clothing works fine for winter bike riding.”
He says it should be well-fitting and breathable, since riding works up a lot of heat-generating energy.
Miick prefers bike-specific winter clothing, on the premise that it not only fits and looks better but is designed for riding, which for one thing means your pants won’t get sucked up into the chain.
Waterproof and breathable fabrics have afforded huge advances in biking clothing, including gloves.
Synthetics and lightweight Merino wool, too, since layering offers both comfort and heat regulation.
You don’t want to overdress, so go light. If you’re a bit chilly starting out, you’ll probably be all right within the first mile or so. Depending on your route (up and over Colorado National Monument or north along the rolling backroads to Fruita) you’ll want to strip off a layer or two on the hard part and put it back on for the downhills.
Lights, however, certainly take precedence over dress. It’s no good to look good if no one can see you.
And no jacket on Earth is enhanced by tire tracks up the back.
“It’s really important to be seen, especially on these short days when the sun is low in the sky,” Finley said. He displayed a selection of lights, including powerful LED (light-emitting diode) lights that selectively either flash and burn steady. Some riders use two headlamps, one flashing and one steady.
Riding behind a flashing beam is akin to riding behind a strobe light, but it sure catches the eyes of approaching drivers.
“Do you want to see or be seen?” asked Finley. “Most of the streets and bike paths around here are well-lighted at night, so you can get by without a headlamp for seeing. But I’ve heard from drivers that they see a flashing headlamp long before they’ll notice a steady beam.”
The state requires only a front white headlamp and a rear red reflector, which in no way is adequate for dusk or after-dark travel. Reflective clothing (most bike shops carry reflective jackets and pants) is a must, although you see lots of people wearing dark clothes on bike with no lights.
Maybe it’s genetic engineering on two wheels.
That helmet isn’t just a summer accessory, by the way. Miick says lightweight wool or synthetic caps fit under your helmet to keep your head and ears warm.
There are Web sites galore offering winter-riding tips, but your closest source for good information and proper winter bike maintenance is local, where many of the bike shop employees ride year-round.
Pulling out that bike on a winter’s day not only keeps you active, it saves the hassle of dusting off that two-wheeler next spring.