Last year firefighter John Griffith awoke to find that Spokane had finally make bicycle lanes throughout the entire city. No, he wasn’t having another cyclist dream, for on this particular day, the snow was too deep for plows to create two lanes. In return, a full lane for vehicles and a half lane—perfect for bicycle commuters— emerged. Talk about a winter wonderland.
John’s been an on and off again bicycle commuter since 1981. He started commuting exclusively by bicycle four years ago. “Everyone knows the benefits of riding a bicycle instead of driving,” he says. “But if riding a bicycle made you fat, sick and ruined the planet I would probably still ride because it’s more fun!”
He’s taken this attitude with him through all of Spokane’s infamous winters. His 3 ? mile commute to the fire station at Indiana and Ash is typically a smooth downhill ride from his South Hill home. Winter conditions make everything a little more tricky. “I’ve always liked the idea of gearing up for adventures,” he says. “Now I get them right at home on my bicycle.”
John says the weather makes him ride a little slower and change his route depending upon the ice and snow. He has three alternative routes planned out in advance but this doesn’t always keep him on the road. Last year he had to walk twice instead of ride because “the snow was too damn deep.”
John says to knock on wood that he hasn’t gotten hurt yet. Aside from a few falls and blasts of snow in the face from sideway vehicles, his winter commute is just as safe as any other season. “If you can be predictable on a bicycle you’ll be fine,” he says.
His best advice is this:
1. Take it slow.
2. Don’t be afraid to fall, snow doesn’t hurt as much.
3. Know when to say no. Walking is always a great second place.
4. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on equipment.
5. A heavy bike is just as good as a light bike.
6. If forced to ride on the sidewalk don’t go any faster than a walking pedestrian would.
Most importantly, John says to enjoy the ride. “Going home, straining up the South Hill is almost like a purification ritual from the craziness of the past 24 hours at work,” he says. Here’s the gear —and Christmas extras—you’ll catch him commuting on.
BICYCLE: XtraCycle weighing in at 65 pounds. “When the streets start slicking up, I ride a Giant Rincon aluminum mountain bike with fenders,” he says. “Nothing fancy. A real cheap bike that just slurps up the deicer like urine margaritas.”
TIRES: Innova Tundra Wolf studded snow tire. 26X 1.75. “The skinniest 1.75 tire I’ve ever seen, he says, they’ve given me back my icy streets.”
CLOTHES: A ripped cotton t-shirt or something from Boo Radleys and a really nice Jos A. Bank wool sweater. Green with stripes. A Christmas present. “Wool never stinks and it’s always just warm enough,” he says. “Plus I like the idea that I’m misusing this fine, preppy pullover. Glee.”
PANTS: Usually just some running pants and REI padded underwear.
OUTERWEAR: “I have a purple Burley cycling rain jacket circa 1990 that is still the best,” he says. “Not a popular bicycle clothing color these days when you think about it. I don’t think they make clothes anymore, which is a shame.”
SHOES: Old Adidas Goretex trail running shoes with Yak Trax on the bottom. With the studded tires, sometimes you don’t realize how slippery the road is until you put your foot out to stop at the stop sign, he says.
SOCKS: The best everything sock—the exclusive Runners Soul sock from Runners Soul downtown, he says. If it gets too cold, wool socks.
GLOVES: Pearl Izumi Barrier Lobster gloves. “I also use the Little Hotties packs to stick inside my gloves if it’s really cold,” he says. “These can be the edge you need.”
GLASSES: A pair of clear safety shop goggles.
LIGHTS: Blackburn Quadrant Headlight and Mars 3.0 Taillight Bike Light Combo. “I also made a coroplast downlight out of some battery powered Christmas lights,” he says. “Very festive.”
SOUND SYSTEM: IH 85B by Ihome that looks like a water bottled in its holder. John says it’s a fairly loud ipod and speaker which is remotely controlled with a controller mounted on the handle bars. In the winter time, the loud speaker is usually switched over to Christmas music.