Tag Archives: winter

Lock De-Icer: key tool for winter riding

This is key to getting your key in and out of your lock when the mercury dips below freezing. It takes a few minutes to take effect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work, so I still carry another chain lock just in case. When all else fails, bring the bike (or lock) indoors for a few minutes. That usually clears it right up.

Bike-as-icebox

I have stopped putting my bike in the back parking behind my apartment because it is uncovered and I’m not that worried about theft anyway.

One added benefit, aside from not having to unlock an extra door and walk farther, is that if I park right next to the back door, I can use my paniers as an extra freezer drawer. This is especially nice if you are throwing a party and need a bit of extra space in the fridge to keep things cold a couple hours or if you want to ice that beer before dinner and don’t have space in the freezer.

bike lock frozen so I had to take transit. yucko.

Yesterday my bike lock was frozen so I couldn’t unlock my bike. It was -5C. I poured boiling water over it which worked. But then when I went to leave the university, I couldn’t even get my key in because some water had gotten in and frozen solid. So I had to take the metro, which was annoying because I was going to go to two different events in two parts of town and it was freezing cold out.

The ticket machine at the metro was broken so I just got on the train. Guess what? Two seconds after I sat down, the guards checked me for my ticket! I explained to them that the machines were broken and they were fortunately nice enough to let me punch my ticket at the next stop. Spared a $100 spot fine but score major minus points for transit for the stress and crappy experience.

Then on my way to the second place, I took the metro to a bus. There was probably a better way to go but I don’t really know the bus lines that well since I never ride them (and I can’t take my bike on them) and I don’t have internet on my phone.  The bus was of course 5 minutes late and there were about 100 people getting on it because their bike locks were probably frozen too. It was freezing to wait and I had to stand in the packed bus. My girlfriend also had to wait for me at the other end for about 10 minutes, and that was including stopping back at the bar on the way because she forgot her hat. Again, twice as long, twice as cold, twice as expensive (actually infinitely more since biking is free).

On my last trip home, I decided to just ride on the package carrier of my girlfriend’s bike. Not so comfortable and probably the coldest way since I was just sitting and moving with frigid -10C (at night) air blowing on my face. But probably still better than waiting for and paying for the bus. I offered to pedal but she refused. I think because she knew it would be colder to sit!

Overall, taking transit took twice as long as biking, cost several times more and was actually colder. Walking to and from the station is colder than biking because you are less active. Maybe we need some indoor bike parking so we don’t get this problem!

Copenhagen

I was in Copenhagen last week, for a meeting of the Danish research project, Bike-ability. Ezra, who works on the project, kindly sorted a bike for me to ride around Copenhagen the next day, so I could get a cyclist’s view of the city.

And what a beautiful day I had! Cold, sure – very cold (especially my feet, despite packing my best cold weather socks – woolie boolies), but blue sky and sunshine bathing the Danish capital in glorious light. I don’t usually ride this style of ‘sensible’ bike, but straightaway I liked how suited it felt to the ‘difficult’ conditions. It felt solid and chunky moving over the ice, and the step-through frame gave me confidence that, should I slip, I’d be able quickly to dismount.

A big difference between the UK and Copenhagen is the treatment of cycling infrastructure. In the UK, cycle routes are very rarely cleared of snow and ice. This means that, in conditions such as those we’ve been having recently, people who ordinarily cycle either stop cycling and find some other way of making their journeys, or they are pushed into using the main roads. It’s a different story in Copenhagen. Some of the back streets weren’t clear, but all of the main arterial cycle routes I rode were.

Apparently there were far fewer people cycling than would usually be the case, even in early December. But again, from an English perspective, huge numbers of people were riding bikes. I stopped often, to watch them flowing through junctions; a beautiful sight, graceful in its silence and wintery light.

People cycling in Copenhagen rarely use their bells! I’d be fascinated to know how this particular mass cycling (non-)behaviour has come about. Mixed with the cold and the drab colours (all the leaves are now gone), the silence gave the cycling procession a funereal quality, which I rather liked (though it also produced a melancholy which made me want to find a warm and cosy cafe and sip hot coffee whilst reading Kierkegaard, whereas my mission was to stay out in the cold and see as much of the city by bike as possible …)

But yes, the numbers of people cycling … very many. I knew it already, but participating in it is another thing – Copenhagen has developed a ‘mass cycling culture’. Cycling is ‘mainstream’ here. I’ve no doubt that the kinds of people you see cycling will vary according to the part of the city and the time of day and week. Where and when I was riding I seemed mainly to be surrounded by younger people, more women than men; many students, I assumed. I stayed behind and followed some, not as a stalker but as a sociologist! Others I overtook, many more overtook me.

It was partly because I was new in the city and unclear on where I was going, and it was partly due to riding an unfamiliar bike, but along the main arterial routes into and out of the central city I felt very much as though I was pedalling a treadmill (yes, I know that’s mixing a metaphor!). Once I was on one of these cycle lanes which aim flat and straight, it felt hard to get off again. The snow had narrowed them, and people overtake, coming past really quite close, which increased my sense of being ‘hemmed in’.

There are important and intersecting tensions here, between ‘freedom’ and ‘confinement’, and between ‘the mass’ and ‘the elite’. It is crucially important how we negotiate these tensions across the world, as we move towards producing cycling as a very major means of urban mobility.

Speaking personally, I don’t like feeling part of a mass, feeling so regulated and restricted in my cycling movements. I don’t like feeling that I’m ‘merely’ playing my part in the rhythmic, quotidian reproduction of urban space in the name of the continuation of a neo-liberal capitalist economy. Rather, I like to explore and to conquer the city through cycling, to be an urban rebel. (Sure, most people might think me a jerk, but when I’m drinking freedom on my bike I really don’t care …)

But my elitist orientation to cycling in the city is antagonistic to (my ambitions for) cycling as a humdrum, mundane, ordinary practice – one which we need huge numbers of people to embrace in order to move towards a planet on which human habitation is viable over the long-term.

So I am in conflict both with my self and with Copenhagen. Which, luckily for me, is an OK place to be. Though of course, I am slightly worried that through my academic work I am arguing for the kinds of place (cities with high modal shares for cycling, such as Copenhagen) in which I personally wouldn’t want routinely to cycle. (Down with Kierkegaard, up with Nietzsche?)

I have two highlights from my day spent pedalling around Copenhagen. The first is that I spent a day pedalling around Copenhagen (which maybe makes it a longlight ..). The second is getting to visit Christiania, a place to which I’ve long wanted to go.

Christiania is of course the home of Christiania bikes. I love cycling and I love all those who work in creative ways towards alternative, progressive, socially and ecologically liberated futures. So this is my kind of place!

I’m also a sociologist, and although I recognise that I’m not always – or even often! – very good at it, I do like to think critically. I am very fond of Denmark and the Netherlands, I love cycling in both countries, and I love how useful and stimulating they are to thinking about cycling and cycling futures. Heaven help us if we didn’t have their shining examples.

But I’m sometimes puzzled how the Dutch and the Danish seem resistant to opening up their cycling practices to critical scrutiny. Amongst many of the Dutch and the Danes whom I’ve had the great privilege of meeting, cycling is somehow something which people simply and unproblematically just do.

The purpose of sociology is to crack open and scrutinize such taken-for-granted, common-sensical perspectives, not to reveal them as false but in order to understand better the complex processes through which they are constructed, maintained and,  yes, routinised.

So what I most love about Christiania and its bikes is how as a concrete place it provides evidence, both ‘actually’ (materially, in the form of a factory) and symbolically (culturally, in the form of the production and reproduction of particular ethics, aesthetics, sensibilities) of how a cycling culture gets built.

Using our bikes to go sledding

It snowed all week so we decided to go sledding this weekend. The bike lanes were a bit sloppy and certainly didn’t look like they had been “plowed before the roads” as the municipality advertises but were nonetheless bikeable if you don’t mind  getting a bit muddy and risking sliding on ice and snow.

We didn’t have a sled so we called up our friend who had a lovely old fashioned one he let us borrow. It was a bit tricky to figure out how to rig it up but Ayako was quite industrious.

When we got there, we realized we weren’t the only ones who had decided to bring our bikes to the sledding hill.

In particular, there were a lot of cargo bicycles which are much more suitable for carrying kids and sleds through the snow and muck. Much like a modern day sleigh.

We even saw this red FietsFabriek bike from Holland. Eventually, we’ll have to get us one of these when we find the need for a bike SUV. For now, we’ll just gerry rig it again next time.

Box bike on frozen lake

Last winter, the lakes in Copenhagen froze over and people started skating. But they also took their bikes and prams out- even the bike box bikes with kids!

Sled-bike integration

In Berlin, everyone took their kids sledding in the park on these great wooden sleighs. Since the sidewalks weren’t cleared of snow, they also pulled them along behind them on the way to the park.

But sometimes, you might want to leave the sled on the street while you get a hot cocoa.

And when you are done, you might want to carry the sled home. Who knows where the kid went…